Peng Shuai said to be in Chinese state media videos

Almost two weeks after people around the world started asking, “Where’s Peng Shuai?”, Two questionable videos surfaced on social media on Saturday of a person who appears to be the Chinese tennis star at a restaurant.

The videos were shared on Twitter by the editor of a state newspaper, but the seemingly unnatural conversation in a video and the unclear location and dates of the two raised questions about Peng’s safety and if she appeared in the videos of her own accord. . A third video, believed to be of Peng during a tennis match in Beijing, was posted about 10 hours later on Sunday.

Peng, in a social media post this month, accused a former senior government official of sexually assaulting her. After the allegation, the Chinese government removed almost all references to Peng from the country’s social media, and Peng disappeared from public life. His absence sparked outrage across the world, especially from top officials and tennis stars.

Steve Simon, general manager of the WTA, the women’s professional tennis tour, has been particularly vocal, demanding verifiable evidence that Peng is safe and can move around society as he pleases and that authorities fully investigate his allegations. If that doesn’t happen, Simon said the WTA will stop playing tennis tournaments in China.

On Saturday, after the videos were released, Simon continued to express his frustration at the inability to independently verify Peng’s welfare and said that “the organization’s relationship with China is at a crossroads. paths “.

“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,” he said. “This video alone is insufficient.”

Peng, 35, is the only Chinese tennis player to reach the world’s No. 1 ranking in women’s doubles, and she has already been hailed by the Chinese government as a model athlete.

The video clips were posted on the Twitter account of Hu Xijin, the editor of the Global Times, an influential Communist Party newspaper, who described them as showing Peng having dinner with his trainer and friends on Saturday.

He wrote that he had “acquired”The clips but offered no explanation as to how, and the clips seemed staged to establish the date. In the first extract, the man who would be Peng’s trainer discusses the plans with her and asks, “Isn’t it tomorrow, November 20?” A woman sitting next to Peng corrects him and says it will be November 21. It then repeats the date twice.

In the second clip, a woman wearing a mask, presumably Peng, is pictured entering a restaurant. The camera stops on a sign indicating the date of the last cleanup, a common sight in Chinese buildings since the SARS outbreak. But only the month of November is visible; the date seems obscured.

Hu posted a third video hours later, describing it as the opening ceremony of a teenage tennis final in Beijing on Sunday to which Peng “showed up”.

Friday, a reporter from another Chinese media posted pictures that would be of Peng in what appeared to be a bedroom, surrounded by stuffed animals. In these photos, Peng looked younger than in the more recent pictures of her and there was nothing to verify when they were taken.

Also on Friday, Simon wrote to the Chinese ambassador to the United States to reiterate his complaints and threat to suppress the nine tournaments hosted by the WTA in China, including the prestigious WTA final in Shenzhen. All tournaments in China this year have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The WTA Finals wrapped up Wednesday in Guadalajara, Mexico.

If Peng is unable to speak freely, Simon wrote, “we are seriously concerned that one of our players is safe in China.”

The men’s tennis tour has expressed concern but has yet to threaten to withdraw its tournaments from China.

The controversy over Peng comes just over two months before the start of the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, raising the specter of one of the world’s biggest sporting events taking place in a country where a triple tennis star Olympian is missing.

The International Olympic Committee has said it believes “quiet diplomacy” would offer the best chance of resolving the situation. On Friday, Dick Pound, an IOC member, told Reuters that if the situation with Peng was “not sensibly resolved very soon, it could get out of hand.” He added: “Whether it escalates into a stoppage of the Olympics, I doubt it. But you never know. “

Simon spent over a week trying to establish personal contact with Peng through a series of phone numbers and other digital contacts, but was unable to speak to him.

Saturday’s videos were the latest media released by a China-controlled entity trying to establish Peng’s safety. Earlier this week, the Chinese state broadcaster allegedly published a message from her.

“Hello everyone, it’s Peng Shuai”, we can read. He called the charge of sexual assault, which was laid just a few weeks ago, false. “I am not missing and I am not in danger either,” the message read. “I rested at home and everything is fine. Thanks again for caring about me.

Simon quickly denounced the dissemination of the message.

“I find it hard to believe that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is attributed to him,” he said.

Peng accused Zhang Gaoli, 75, former Chinese vice premier, of sexually assaulting her at her home three years ago. In a post on her verified account on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, Peng wrote that the assault occurred after Zhang invited her to play tennis at his home. “I was so scared that afternoon,” she said. “I never gave my consent, crying all the time.”

She also described having had an intermittent consensual relationship with Zhang.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Friday that the Biden administration was paying close attention to the situation and was “deeply concerned.” She called on the Chinese government to provide “independent and verifiable evidence” of Peng’s whereabouts.

In recent days, several notable tennis names have joined the chorus to demand proof that Peng is safe.

“We have to see her in a live video wielding a newspaper today or better yet, hitting balls,” former ESPN player and commentator Patrick McEnroe said Friday. McEnroe coached Peng earlier in his career in World Team Tennis.

“If none of this happens, and the people I’m talking to say if the Chinese really don’t care what we think, and we never hear from Peng or have no idea, the only one the real recourse that remains is for professional tennis to draw all of its tournaments from China, ”he said.

Serena williams, Naomi Osaka, Simona halep and Coco gauff are among the current players who have posted their concern for Peng on social media. Novak Djokovic shared a statement from the Professional Tennis Players Association, of which he is a co-founder.

Martina Navratilova, the former champion who left Czechoslovakia in 1975 to escape the Communist government, also talks about Peng.

“I don’t believe a word of what they say,” Navratilova said of the Chinese government in an interview on Saturday. “There is a lot of subterfuge here. “



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John C. Dent