Chinese female tennis star Peng Shuai has been spoken up and seen publicly for the first time in weeks, but the new videos are unlikely to clear up the mystery over her explosive charges of sexual abuse against a top regime figure earlier this month and the ruling Communist Party’s determination to quash the public furor over her story.
Ms. Peng, who abruptly disappeared after she posted a Nov. 2 account of sexual abuse by a former member of the communist regime’s top governing body, was shown in videos released this weekend dining with friends at a Beijing restaurant Saturday and attending — but not speaking — at the opening ceremonies for a junior tennis tournament in the Chinese capital Sunday.
Screenshots from the tournament video, released by the organizers of the sponsoring China Open, show a smiling Ms. Peng autographing oversized tennis balls for a group of youngsters at the opening ceremony of Fila Kids Junior Tennis Challenger Final.
If legitimate, the videos would be the first moving images shown of the former No. 1-ranked women’s doubles player since the day she said on Chinese social media that former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, a retired onetime member of China‘s ruling Politburo, had forced her to have sex at least once in the course of an off-and-on extramarital affair begun a decade ago when he was party secretary for the Tianjin region.
The 35-year-old Ms. Peng did not speak in the videos, but later in the day held a 30-minute video call with officials from the International Olympic Committee in which she insisted she was safe but apparently declined to go into detail on what had happened to her.
The three-time Chinese Olympian spoke with IOC President Thomas Bach, athletes commission chair Emma Terho and IOC member Li Lingwei, a former vice president of the Chinese Tennis Association and thanked the international sports organization “for its concern about her well-being,” the Switzerland-based group said in a statement.
“She explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time. That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now,” the statement said.
Accusations of personal scandal relating to top members of the Chinese Communist Party are exceedingly rare, and both Ms. Peng and her social media posts were quickly removed from public view shortly after her explosive Nov. 2 post. All discussion of the case on Chinese social media sites has been heavily censored by the government since then, and a Foreign Ministry spokesman denied even being aware of the controversy at a recent briefing.
The Biden administration and other Western governments have expressed concern for her fate, and the Women’s Tennis Association has threatened to cancel multiple top-level events in China if Ms. Peng‘s fate was not cleared up. The controversy has also surfaced as China prepares to host the Winter Olympic Games in February in Beijing.
The weekend videos are a positive sign, but not enough to quell doubts about Ms. Peng‘s treatment, International Tennis Federation President Dave Haggerty told the Reuters news agency in an email Sunday.
“Our primary concern is Peng Shuai‘s safety and her well-being,” Mr. Haggerty wrote. “The videos of her this weekend appear to be a positive step, but we will continue to seek direct engagement and confirmation from Peng Shuai herself that she is safe and well.”
Several pro-government commentators on China‘s social media have pointed to Ms. Peng‘s reemergence to criticize Western governments and leading tennis stars such as Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic for jumping to negative conclusions about her case.