The world was left baffled after China’s tennis star Peng Shuai released a statement Sunday to retract her earlier allegations of sexual abuse against a former Chinese vice premier, Zhang Gaoli.
“First, I need to stress one point that is extremely important, I have never said or written that anyone has sexually assaulted me, I have to clearly stress this point,” said Peng in a video posted by Lianhe Zaobao, a Singapore media outlet.
The 35-year-old also added that the viral Weibo post she had made early last month containing the allegations had been severely misunderstood and that it was a “private matter”.
Both China and Zhang had largely remained silent, although officials reacted when the Florida-based Women’s Tennis Association decided to suspend tournaments in China for safety reasons, stating that the country “opposes the politicisation of sports”.
Peng disappeared from public life for three weeks and only “appeared” after international media and organisations voiced concerns. A purported email from Peng saying “everything is fine” was published on Chinese state media, and it was claimed that she had video communications with the International Olympic Committee.
“These appearances do not alleviate or address the WTA’s significant concerns about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion,” said the WTA.
“We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern.”
Tom Jarvis, journalist and researcher from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, voiced the same doubt.
“Such sightings being reported only by state media, rather than on Peng’s personal account, have added to suspicions,” Jarvis wrote.
“This is one of the most severe blocks by the state in recent years, with information released for international eyes only. Censorship was most obvious during CNN’s broadcast about Peng’s disappearance, when the feed in China ‘lost signal’.”