BEIJING (AP) – Missing tennis star Peng Shuai reappeared in public at a youth tournament in Beijing on Sunday, according to photos released by the organizer, as the ruling Communist Party tried to allay fears in Beijing. abroad while suppressing information in China about Peng after accusing a senior official of sexual assault.
The China Open post on social media service Weibo made no mention of Peng’s disappearance or his accusation. The three-time Olympian and former Wimbledon champion was shown standing next to a court, waving and signing oversized commemorative tennis balls for the children.
The ruling party appears to be trying to defuse the alarm about Peng without acknowledging her disappearance after accusing Zhang Gaoli, a member of the ruling party’s standing committee until 2018, of forcing her into relations. sexual.
Peng’s disappearance and official silence in response to calls for information prompted calls to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, a high-profile event for the Communist Party. The women’s professional tour threatened to pull events out of China unless the safety of the former No.1 doubles player was assured.
“Our main concern is the safety and well-being of Peng Shuai,” Dave Haggerty, 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 engagement and confirmation from Peng Shuai herself that she is safe and healthy.”
Discussion of Peng’s accusation has been removed from websites in China. A government spokesperson on Friday denied knowing about the outcry. The ruling party’s internet filters also prevent most Chinese from seeing other social media overseas and most global media.
Chinese social media comments on Sunday criticized the Women’s Tennis Association and others who spoke about Peng. Chinese-language comments on Twitter mocked the awkward posting of photos and videos of Peng by state media workers over the weekend as the government remained silent.
“When will the WTA come out of China?” Said a comment on social media service Sina Weibo, signed “Sleep Time.”
Peng joins the growing number of Chinese businessmen, activists and ordinary people who have disappeared in recent years after criticizing party figures or as part of cracking down on corruption or campaigning for democracy and labor rights.
Some reappear weeks or months later without an explanation, suggesting that they are warned not to reveal that they were detained or the reason.
Peng’s appearance on Sunday was mentioned in the last sentence of a report about the tournament on the website of the Global Times in English, a newspaper published by the ruling party and aimed at foreign readers, but not immediately reported by d other media in China.
Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin said on Twitter on Saturday that most Chinese netizens cannot see, that Peng “is staying freely at home” and “will be showing up in public soon.”
The Global Times is known for its nationalist tone. Hu uses his Twitter account to criticize foreign governments and report social and economic problems abroad.
A Twitter comment signed by bobzhang999 read, âHu Dog, with so many pictures, why don’t you let Peng Shuai speak?
Another, signed Magician, said, âLet Peng Shuai’s parents hold a press conference. “
The tennis stars and the WTA have been unusually vocal in demanding information on Peng. Other companies and sports groups are reluctant to take on Beijing for fear of losing access to the Chinese market or other reprisals.
The ruling party has given no indication whether it is investigating Peng’s accusation against Gao, 75, who left the Standing Committee in 2018 and has largely disappeared from public life.
Even if Peng’s charge is held to be valid, the Chinese are often jailed or face other penalties for embarrassing the party by posting abuse complaints instead of going through the secretive and often callous official system.
The status of star athletes like Peng is particularly sensitive. State media are celebrating their victories as proof that the party is making China strong. But the party is vigilant to ensure that it cannot use its notoriety and public appeal to erode its image.
Steve Simon, president and CEO of the WTA, expressed concern for Peng’s safety after Hu, the newspaper’s editor, posted two videos on Saturday that appeared to show her in a restaurant.
“Although it is positive to see her, it is still unclear whether she is free and capable of making decisions and acting on her own, without coercion or outside interference. This video alone is insufficient,” Simon said. âOur relationship with China is at a crossroads.
The IOC has been silent on the status of Peng, who has competed in three Olympics, contributing to the IOC’s multi-million dollar income from broadcast and sponsorship.
The stated policy of the Olympic body is âquiet diplomacyâ. The IOC said on Saturday that it would “continue our open dialogue at all levels with the Olympic movement in China.”
Asked two weeks ago about human rights in China, Juan Antonio Samaranch, senior member of the IOC, said “we are not discussing anything with the Chinese government” on this subject.
The IOC has previously said its partner in hosting the Winter Games is the local organizing committee, not the Chinese state. This committee is controlled by the Communist Party.
Emma Terho, the new president-elect of the IOC Athletes’ Commission responsible for representing the interests of Olympic athletes, said in a statement on Saturday “we support the approach of quiet diplomacy” favored by the IOC.
Last week, the foreign branch of state television released a statement in English attributed to Peng who withdrew his accusation against Zhang. Simon of the WTA questioned his legitimacy while others said it only increased their concern for his safety.
AP Sports writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.