Peng Shuai appears at China tennis event, WTA still concerned

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) – Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, whose whereabouts have been a matter of international concern for weeks, attended a tennis tournament in Beijing on Sunday (Nov 21), according to official photos published by the tournament organised by China Open.

Ms Peng can be seen among guests at the Fila Kids Junior Tennis Challenger, dressed in a dark blue jacket and white trousers, according to the pictures published on the event’s official page on WeChat.

The former doubles world number had not been seen or heard from publicly since she said on Chinese social media on Nov 2 that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli had coerced her into sex and they later had an on-off consensual relationship.

Neither Mr Zhang nor the Chinese government have commented on her allegation.

Ms Peng’s social media post was quickly deleted and the topic has been blocked from discussion on China’s heavily censored Internet.

World tennis bodies have expressed concern, with the Women’s Tennis Association threatening to pull tournaments out of China.

The United States and Britain have called for evidence of Ms Peng’s whereabouts and safety.

Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement on Saturday: “The Chinese authorities should urgently provide verifiable evidence of her safety and whereabouts.

“Everyone should be allowed to speak out without fear of repercussions. All reports of sexual assault, anywhere in the world, should be investigated.”

The photographs and video footage of Ms Peng that emerged on Sunday remain “insufficient” and do not address the WTA’s concerns, a spokesperson for the group told Reuters by email. 

The US and British embassies in Beijing did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment on Ms Peng’s Sunday appearance in the Chinese capital. 

The issue of Ms Peng’s safety and whereabouts has emerged as China prepares to host the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February amid calls from global rights groups and others for a boycott over its human rights record. 

Mr Hu Xijin, the editor of state-backed newspaper Global Times, tweeted Ms Peng’s appearance at the tournament earlier on Sunday. 

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The Global Times is published by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party. 

Videos posted by Mr Hu and a Global Times reporter showed her smiling, waving and signing autographs for children.  

The 37-second video Mr Hu posted appears to show Ms Peng standing in a row of people being introduced to the audience.

An announcer says, “Two-time Grand Slam champion, former world number one in woman’s doubles – Peng Shuai!”

She waves, smiling, and acknowledges applause. 

Global Times chief reporter Chen Qingqing posted a 31-second video, apparently from the same event.

Ms Peng appears to sign oversized tennis balls for children and pose with them for pictures. 

Reuters was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the images, which were both credited to Global Times staffer Cui Meng. 

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