Missing Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai resurfaces in Beijing after Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams worried ahead of Olympics

BEIJING — Missing tennis star Peng Shuai made public appearances again on Sunday at a youth tournament in Beijing, according to photos released by the organizer, as the ruling Communist Party tried to quell fears abroad while spreading information about Peng in China. after she accused a senior leader of sexual assault.

The China Open post on Weibo’s social media service made no mention of Peng’s disappearance or her accusation. The three-time Olympian and former Wimbledon champion was shown next to a track, brandishing oversized children’s commemorative tennis balls.

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The ruling party appears to be trying to allay the alarm over Peng without acknowledging her disappearance after accusing Zhang Gaoli, a member of the party’s ruling Standing Committee until 2018, on Nov. 2 of forcing her to have sex.

Peng’s disappearance and official silence in response to requests for information sparked calls for a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, a prestige event for the Communist Party. The women’s professional tour was in danger of taking events out of China unless the former No. 1 doubles player’s safety was assured.

“Our primary concern is the safety and well-being of Peng Shuai,” Dave Haggerty, the president of the International Tennis Federation and member of the International Olympic Committee, said in a statement Sunday. “The videos of her this weekend appear to be a positive step, but we will continue to seek direct involvement and confirmation from Peng Shuai herself that she is safe and sound.”

Discussion of Peng’s accusation has been removed from websites in China. A government spokesman denied knowing about the outrage on Friday. The ruling party’s internet filters also prevent most people in China from seeing other social media abroad and most global news channels.

Comments on Chinese social media on Sunday criticized the Women’s Tennis Association and others who spoke out about Peng. Comments in Chinese on Twitter made fun of the inconvenient release of photos and video of Peng by state media officials this weekend while the government remained silent.

“When will the WTA come out of China?” said a response to the Sina Weibo social media service, signed “Sleep Time.”

Peng joins a growing number of Chinese businessmen, activists and ordinary people who have disappeared in recent years after criticizing party figures or cracking down on corruption or pro-democracy and labor rights campaigns.

Some reappear weeks or months later without explanation, suggesting they are being warned not to disclose their detention or the reason.

Peng’s performance on Sunday was mentioned in the last sentence of a report about the tournament on the website of the Anglophone Global Times, a newspaper of the ruling party and aimed at foreign readers, but not directly reported by other media within China.

Global Times editor Hu Xijin said on Twitter on Saturday that it cannot be seen by most Internet users in China that Peng “stayed freely in her own home” and would soon “appear in public”.

The Global Times is known for its nationalistic tone. Hu uses his Twitter account to criticize foreign governments and point out social and economic problems abroad.

A comment on Twitter, signed by bobzhang999, said: “Hu Dog, with so many pictures, why don’t you let Peng Shuai talk?”

Another, Wizard signed, said, “Let Peng Shuai’s parents hold a press conference.”

Tennis stars and the WTA have been extremely vocal in demanding information about Peng. Other companies and sports groups are reluctant to confront Beijing for fear of losing access to the Chinese market or other retaliation.

The ruling party has not given any indication as to whether it is investigating Peng’s accusation against 75-year-old Gao, who left the Standing Committee in 2018 and has largely disappeared from public life.

Even if Peng’s charges are upheld, people in China are often jailed or face other penalties for embarrassing the party by publishing abuse complaints rather than the secret, often unresponsive official system to go.

The status of star athletes like Peng is especially sensitive. State media celebrate their victories as proof that the party makes China strong. But the party is vigilant to make sure they can’t use their fame and public appeal to tarnish its image.

Steve Simon, the chairman and CEO of the WTA, expressed concerns for Peng’s safety after the newspaper’s editor Hu posted two videos on Saturday that appeared to show her in a restaurant.

“While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear whether she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or outside interference. This video alone is not enough,” said Simon. “Our relationship with China is at a crossroads.”

The IOC has remained silent on the status of Peng, who has competed in three Olympic Games and contributed to the IOC’s multimillion-dollar revenue from broadcasting and sponsorship.

The Olympic body’s stated policy is “quiet diplomacy”. The IOC said on Saturday it would “continue our open dialogue at all levels with the Olympic movement in China”.

Asked two weeks ago about human rights in China, senior IOC member Juan Antonio Samaranch said “we are not discussing anything with the Chinese government” on that subject.

The IOC has previously said that its partner in organizing the Winter Games is the local organizing committee, not the Chinese state. That committee is controlled by the Communist Party.

Emma Terho, the newly elected head of the IOC’s Athletes Commission charged with representing the interests of Olympic athletes, said in a statement on Saturday “we support the quiet diplomacy” approach favored by the IOC.

Last week, the foreign branch of state television released a statement in English attributable to Peng, withdrawing its accusation against Zhang. Simon of the WTA questioned its legitimacy, while others said it only heightens their concerns for her safety.

The video in the player above is from an earlier report.

Copyright © 2021 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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