International concern mounts over welfare of player who hasn’t been seen since she made sexual assault allegations.
Chinese sports star Peng Shuai has attended a tennis tournament in Beijing, according to official photos, amid mounting international concern about her whereabouts after she accused a senior Chinese leader of sexual assault.
China Open, which organised the tournament, published pictures of Peng at the Fila Kids Junior Tennis Challenger Finals on Sunday.
The photos were posted on the event’s official WeChat page.
Hu Xijin, editor of the Communist Party-owned Global Times, also released a 37-second video on Twitter that showed Peng watching the match with five other people.
Peng Shuai showed up at the opening ceremony of a teenager tennis match final in Beijing on Sunday morning. Global Times photo reporter Cui Meng captured her at scene. pic.twitter.com/7wlBcTMgGy
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) November 21, 2021
The former doubles world number one had not been seen or heard from publicly since she said on social media on November 2 that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli had coerced her into sex, and they later had an on-off consensual relationship.
Neither Zhang nor the Chinese government has commented on her allegation. Peng’s social media post was quickly deleted and the topic has been blocked from discussion on China’s heavily censored internet.
World tennis bodies have expressed concern, with the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) threatening to pull tournaments out of China. The United States and the United Kingdom have called for evidence of Peng’s whereabouts and safety.
A spokesman for the WTA told Reuters news agency that the photographs and video footage of Peng that emerged on Sunday remain “insufficient” and do not address its concerns.
Peng’s appearance at the tournament came after she visited a popular restaurant in downtown Beijing on Saturday night.
Hu had also posted a video of the outing, which a restaurant manager confirmed to Reuters on Sunday.
I acquired two video clips, which show Peng Shuai was having dinner with her coach and friends in a restaurant. The video content clearly shows they are shot on Saturday Beijing time. pic.twitter.com/HxuwB5TfBk
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) November 20, 2021
Seven people including Peng were at the Sichuanese restaurant, said the manager, Zhou Hongwei, adding that they ate in a private room and were joined by the restaurant’s owner.
“It was crowded at the restaurant as usual,” Zhou said, showing a bill that included noodles and bamboo shoots. “They didn’t have much. I think they mostly chatted.”
Peng adds to a growing number of Chinese businesspeople, activists and citizens who have disappeared in recent years after criticising party figures or in crackdowns on corruption or pro-democracy and labour rights campaigns.
Some re-emerge weeks or months later without explanation, suggesting they are warned not to disclose they were detained or the reason.
Steve Simon, the WTA’s chairman and CEO, expressed concern for Peng’s safety on Saturday, despite Hu posting the two videos of her in a restaurant.
“While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference. This video alone is insufficient,” Simon said. “Our relationship with China is at a crossroads.”
The International Olympic Committee has remained quiet about the status of Peng, who competed in three Olympics, helping to contribute to the IOC’s multimillion-dollar revenue from broadcasting and sponsorships.
Emma Terho, the newly elected head of the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission that is charged with representing the interests of Olympic athletes, said in a statement Saturday “we support the quiet diplomacy” approach favoured by the IOC.
Last week, the foreign arm of state TV issued a statement in English attributed to Peng that retracted her accusation against Zhang. The WTA’s Simon questioned its legitimacy, while others said it only increased their concern about her safety.