Why the International Concern Over Peng Shuai?
The tennis star’s allegation that a senior official sexually abused her ignited global concern. Her comments retracting that claim seem unlikely to end the matter.
A simple question has gripped the sports world and drawn the attention of the White House, United Nations and others:
What was in her accusation?
In a 1,600 word post on Weibo in November, Ms Peng said she had a romantic relationship with former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli and that he had “forced” her to have sexual relations with him.
It is the first time such an allegation has been made against one of China’s senior political leaders.
“I know that someone of your eminence, Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, you’ll say that you’re not afraid,” Ms Peng wrote in her post, “but even if it’s just striking a stone with a pebble, or a moth attacking a flame and courting self destruction, I will tell the truth about you”.
She said he had first coerced her after she visited his home to play tennis. “That afternoon I didn’t give my consent and couldn’t stop crying,” she wrote. “You brought me to your house and forced me and you to have relations.”
Who is Zhang Gaoli?
Mr Zhang, 75, served as vice-premier between 2013 and 2018 and was previously the top party official in Tianjin.
During his time as vice-premier, he presided over preparation meetings for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
He was also involved in China’s Belt and Road project and visited a number of countries as part of this. He also spoke as President Xi Jinping’s special envoy at a UN climate conference in 2014.
What happened to Peng Shuai?
The Chinese tennis star disappeared from public view for weeks in November after she accused a top Chinese leader of sexual assault, prompting a global chorus of concern for her safety.
Then, 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. Days later, the International Olympic Committee said its president had spoken with her in a video call.
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has sent an email to Steve Simon, the WTA Chairman & CEO, CGTN has learned. The email reads: pic.twitter.com/uLi6Zd2jDI
— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) November 17, 2021
But the Women’s Tennis Association has said it remained concerned about Ms. Peng’s ability to communicate freely and has called for Beijing to investigate her accusations. The leaders of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee have voiced similar worries. On Dec. 1, the tennis association announced that it was suspending all tournaments in China, including Hong Kong.
The Biden administration and United Nations human rights office have joined the calls for Beijing to provide proof of Ms. Peng’s well-being.
The suspicions that Ms. Peng withdrew her accusation of sexual assault under official duress are unlikely to be placated by a video interview that she did with a Singaporean newspaper on Sunday. Ms. Peng told the Lianhe Zaobao newspaper that she had not been sexually assaulted, and that her account of what happened had been misunderstood.
She also said that she was not under official watch and was free to move around.
But China’s authoritarian government has a long record of coercing and cajoling people to denounce or retract comments that erode the standing of the Communist Party. And human rights groups have said Ms. Peng has probably acted under such pressure.
With only a few months to go before Beijing hosts the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, Ms. Peng’s situation has become another point of tension in China’s fractious relationship with the wider world. The United States, Australia and other Western governments have said they will not send government officials or diplomats to the games, although their athletes will take part.
Who is Peng Shuai?
Peng Shuai, 35 — her family name is pronounced “pung,” and the end of her given 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 Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan the year before, Ms. Peng rose to become a world No. 1 in doubles, the first Chinese player, male or female, to attain the top rank in either singles or doubles. She and Ms. Hsieh took the 2014 French Open doubles title as well.
Her doubles career underwent a resurgence in 2016 and 2017. But in 2018, she was barred from professional play for six months, with a three-month suspension, after she was found to have tried to use “coercion” and financial incentives to change her Wimbledon doubles partner after the sign-in deadline.
She has not competed professionally since early 2020.