Who and where is Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai? | Today Headlines

Who and where is Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai?

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A simple question has gripped the sports world and caught the attention of the White House, the United Nations and others:

Where is Peng Shuai?

The Chinese tennis star has disappeared from public view for weeks this month after accusing a top Chinese leader of sexual assault, sparking a worldwide chorus of concern for his safety. Then over the weekend, the editor of a Communist Party-controlled newspaper posted video clips that appear to show Ms. Peng eating at a restaurant and attending a tennis event in Beijing.

Senior women’s tennis official Steve Simon said it was “positive” to see the videos, although he said he remained skeptical that Ms Peng was making decisions freely. China’s authoritarian government has long treated with an iron fist those who threaten to undermine public confidence in the party’s top leaders.

With just a few months left before Beijing hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics, Ms Peng’s case could become another point of tension in China’s increasingly difficult relations with the rest of the world.

Peng Shuai, 35 – her last name is pronounced “pung” and the end of her first name rhymes with “why” – is a three-time Olympian whose tennis career began more than two decades ago.

In February 2014, after winning the doubles crown at Wimbledon with Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei the year before, Ms. Peng rose to the rank of world No. 1 in doubles, the first Chinese player, male or female, to reach the first rank. in singles or doubles. She and Ms. Hsieh also won the Roland Garros doubles title in 2014.

Her doubles career saw a resurgence in 2016 and 2017. But in 2018, she was banned from professional gambling for six months, with a three-month suspension, after attempting to use “coercion” and financial incentives to change it. Wimbledon doubles its partner after the registration deadline. She has not competed professionally since early 2020.

Late on the evening of November 2, Ms. Peng posted a lengthy note on the Chinese social platform Weibo that exploded on the Chinese internet.

In the post, she accused Zhang Gaoli, 75, a former deputy prime minister, of inviting her to his home about three years ago and forcing her to have sex. “That afternoon I didn’t consent at first,” she wrote. “I cried all the time.”

She and Mr. Zhang began a consensual, albeit confrontational, relationship after that, she wrote. Mr. Zhang served from 2012 to 2017 on China’s highest governing body, the Politburo Standing Committee.

Within minutes, censors wiped Ms. Peng’s account from the Chinese internet. A digital blackout on his charges has since been in place.

Women in China who present themselves as victims of sexual assault and predation have long faced censorship and repression. But Ms. Peng’s account, which has not been corroborated, is the first to implicate such a high-level Communist Party leader, which is why the authorities may have been very diligent in silencing any discussion about the issue. ‘case, at one point even blocking online searches for the word “tennis”.

Censors may have succeeded if Mr Simon, head of the Women’s Tennis Association, had not spoken on November 14, calling on Beijing to investigate Ms Peng’s accusations and stop trying to bury her case .

Confronting China had significant consequences for other sports organizations. But Mr Simon told CNN that the WTA was ready to withdraw its activities from China on the matter.

Other tennis luminaries – so far the list includes Naomi Osaka, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal and Billie Jean King – have come out in favor of Ms Peng. Spanish football star Gerard pique posted with the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai to his 20 million Twitter followers.

The Biden administration and the United Nations human rights office have joined in calls for Beijing to provide proof of Ms. Peng’s well-being.

The International Olympic Committee initially said it was satisfied with reports that she was safe, although it later suggested it was engaging in “quiet diplomacy” to unravel the situation. In an interview with Reuters, the longest-serving member of the committee, Dick Pound, said he doubted the issue would lead to the cancellation of the Winter Games. But he couldn’t rule it out either, he said.

“If this is not sensibly resolved very soon, it could get out of hand,” Mr Pound told the news agency.

On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal published an essay by Enes Kanter, a Boston Celtics center, in which he called for the Beijing Winter Games to be moved. Mr. Kanter has been a vocal critic of the Chinese government, attacking its policies by Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The National Basketball Association’s streaming partner in China has removed Celtics games from its platform in response.

“Not all gold medals in the world are worth selling your values ​​and principles to the Chinese Communist Party,” Kanter wrote in The Journal.

Nothing. Not officially, at least.

Instead, Chinese state news organizations and their employees have been the only quasi-official voices in the country to speak. They do this in particular on Twitter, which is blocked in China. Their posts seem to be aimed specifically at persuading the world at large.

First, a Chinese state broadcaster posted an email on Twitter, written in English and attributed to Ms. Peng, who denied the assault charge and said she was “resting at home.” Mr Simon dismissed the email as crude fabrication and said it only deepened his concerns for the tennis star’s safety.

Next, Hu Xijin, editor of the state-controlled newspaper Global Times, began sharing videos that appear to show Ms. Peng with her 450,000 Twitter followers.

At Mr. Hu first Twitter comments on the subject, he said he did not believe Ms. Peng was being punished “for the thing people were talking about,” refusing even to specify the nature of her charges.

On Saturday, Mr. Hu posted two video clips that he said he “acquired”.

In one clip, a man talks with a woman who appears to be Ms. Peng at a restaurant when he asks, “Tomorrow is November 20, isn’t it? Another woman at the table corrects him by saying that tomorrow is the 21st. Ms. Peng nods in agreement.

The man appears to be Zhang Junhui, an executive from the China Open tennis tournament.

Mr. Hu posted another clip on Sunday, which he said was shot by a Global Times employee, which shows Ms. Peng at the opening ceremony of a tennis event in Beijing. Zhang Junhui appears to be standing to Ms. Peng’s right.

The China Open posted photos from the same event on its Weibo account on Sunday. The photos show Ms. Peng waving to the crowd and dedicating tennis balls, although the post does not name her.

Mr. Hu hasn’t shared any of these videos on Weibo, where he has 24 million followers.

In a statement, WTA’s Mr Simon said the clips alone were “insufficient” to prove Ms Peng was not facing coercion.

“Our relationship with China is at a crossroads,” he said.

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