Hong Kong: Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has resurfaced after nearly 20 days of silence and global concern over his arrest. But footage showing Peng over the weekend does not appear to have allayed fears for her safety that began when she disappeared from public view following a sexual assault charge against one of the former senior leaders of the Chinese Communist Party.
As reported by CBS News correspondent Ramy Inocencio, Peng’s first real-time contact with the outside world in nearly three weeks took place this weekend in the form of a video call with Thomas Bach, chairman of the International Olympic Committee. During the 30-minute call, Peng assured Bach that she was “safe and healthy,” according to the IOC.
The IOC only released one still image from this video chat, showing Peng smiling, along with a statement saying she was at home in Beijing and wanted her privacy to be respected.
It came after the release over the weekend of an apparently scripted and staged video of Peng with his tennis coach, with forced references to November 21, which was posted on Twitter by the editor. chief of the Chinese tabloid Global Times, which is closely linked to the ruling Communist Party. There was also a video of her greeting spectators at the China Open on Sunday morning, and photos of Peng playing with a cat.
All of the new footage appears to show Peng over the weekend, but all of them questioned whether she acted under duress.
On November 2, the 35-year-old former Wimbledon and Roland Garros doubles champion, who is also a three-time Olympian, publicly accused former Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli, a close ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping , of sexual coercion for about three years. since.
The four paragraph note posted by Peng’s on Chinese social media platform Weibo was quickly removed. All references to his name were still censored online in China until Sunday.
An email allegedly sent by Peng to the president of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), broadcast on Chinese state media, retracted everything. The author wrote: “The allegation of sexual assault is not true. I am not missing and I am not safe. I just had a rest at home and everything is fine.
WTA boss Steve Simon, to whom the letter was addressed, was not greatly comforted by the email, saying it only increased his “concerns about his safety and whereabouts” .
“I find it hard to believe that Peng Shuai actually wrote down the email we received or believes what is attributed to him,” he said last week.
Following Peng’s video chat with the IOC boss over the weekend, Olympic body Athletes’ Commission chairwoman Emma Terho said in a statement that she was “relieved to see Peng Shuai was fine which was our main concern. She looked relaxed. I offered to support her and keep in touch at any time of her convenience, which she obviously appreciated.
But the WTA, which along with the United States and the United Nations had demanded proof of Peng’s well-being and an investigation into his allegations of sexual assault, said Peng’s private video chat with the IOC no had not allayed the concerns. The organization reiterated its previous calls for a full and transparent investigation into Peng’s circumstances and his assault allegations, “without censorship.”
Isaac Stone Fish, China risk analyst and CBS News contributor, was also not convinced, and he questioned the CIO’s willingness to participate as a third-hand vector of information.
“It’s certainly quite suspicious,” Stone Fish told CBS News, “that the International Olympic Committee – an organization known for its close ties to Beijing – was the Western channel for [the] alleged video chat with Peng, as opposed to, say, the Women’s Tennis Association, which was much more critical.
The Beijing Winter Olympics are scheduled to begin in a few months on February 4. The United States and other Western countries have already made it clear that they can officially boycott the Games, refusing to send senior officials to participate in the opening ceremony.
The WTA has threatened to withdraw from a huge deal with China to hold its championships in the country until 2028. WTA chief Simon said last week that the organization was prepared to sacrifice the deal with China, which he estimates at around $ 1 billion in total. value – if Peng’s circumstances were not fully verified.
At the very least, the world now has at least one answer to the question, which has been adopted as a social media hashtag, “#WhereisPengShuai?”
It was not clear on Monday whether Beijing would launch an investigation into the accusations of sexual assault on Peng by the top Communist Party member. It has become the highest claim of the Chinese “MeToo” movement to date. But with Peng smiling and asking Chinese state media for confidentiality, it didn’t look like an investigation was imminent. (CBS News)