Chinese state’s Peng Shuai media release raises WTA “concerns”

BEIJING – The director of the women’s professional tennis tour questioned what Chinese state media said the Grand Slam champion had accused an even senior government official of sexual harassment.

WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon said Wednesday that a statement tweeted by the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV’s international CGTN, which contained the contents of an email he wrote to Simon, “only raises my concerns about his safety and whereabouts.”

Peng is a 35-year-old Chinese and former women’s doubles number one player who won the championship at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.

He wrote on long social media earlier this month that the former deputy prime minister and a member of the standing committee of the ruling Communist Party’s political bureau had forced him into sex despite repeated refusals.

The message was removed from his verified account in Weibo, China’s leading social media platform, and the country’s state-controlled media has suppressed reporting of the incident.

Simon called for a full investigation on Sunday and demanded that Peng be not censored. Concerns about the incident and Peng’s safety include ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi and four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka.

The CGTN’s statement to Peng on Wednesday contained an indication that his claim was “untrue.”

As a foreign branch of the state broadcaster CCTV, the CGTN is one of numerous propaganda tools used by the ruling Communist Party to try to influence foreign opinion. It has been sanctioned on several occasions by Ofcom, a British TV regulator, for sending forced confessions to a British businessman, a Hong Kong bookseller and an employee of the UK consulate in Hong Kong.

“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is considered about him,” Simon said. “Peng Shuai showed incredible courage in describing the sexual violence of a former senior Chinese government official. The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable evidence that he is safe. I have repeatedly tried to reach him through several forms of communication, in vain.”

Simon’s statement, published by the WTA, went on to say: “Peng Shua must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source. Her allegation of sexual violence must be respected, fully investigated and uncensored. “

Peng wrote that Zhang Gaoli forced him into sex despite repeated refusals after a round of tennis three years ago. He said Zhang’s wife was guarding the door during the incident.

His message also said they had sex once seven years ago and had feelings for him since then.

As is customary for retired Chinese officials, 75-year-old Zhang dropped out of the public eye after retiring in 2018, and is not known to have close professional or political ties to current leaders.

Peng won 23 tour-level doubles championships and was a semi-finalist in the 2014 US Open doubles semi-final. He has not competed on tour since the February 2020 Qatar Open before the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to take a break from tennis.

Peng also participated in three Olympics. The Beijing Olympic Games, hosted by the International Olympic Committee and China, begin on February 4; The IOC said Wednesday that it has seen news of Peng and is in contact with the International Tennis Federation.

His accusation was the first prominent government official since the #MeToo movement took over in China in 2018, before it was largely shut down by authorities that same year.

In response to a question at Wednesday’s daily news conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he had no information about Peng’s situation.

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