Video and footage: A smiling Peng Shuai appeared on social media on Saturday night, as international pressure mounted on China for information about the Chinese player’s fate.
Peng Shuai, 35, the former world number one doubles player and country star, has not come forward publicly since Zhang Gaoli, a powerful 40-year-old former Communist Party official, was accused of coercion.
In this initial message, which was posted succinctly in early November on the player’s official Weibo account before he was censored on the Chinese internet, it described the failed romance with Mr. Zhang, who is married, before he took senior positions.
In this writing attributed to Peng Shuai, but which AFP could not verify its authenticity, the player explained that Zhang Gaoli had resumed contact with her when he retired in 2018. A “forced” sexual relationship was provoked.
Since these assertions, Peng Shuai’s fate has been the subject of many questions.
“For the past few days, she has been staying at home freely and did not want to be disturbed,” Hu Shijin, the influential editor-in-chief of the newspaper, said on Saturday. Global Timesa Chinese daily newspaper with an assertive nationalist tone.
In English at midday (Beijing time) on Twitter, which is banned in China, Bing Shuai wrote that Bing Shuai “will soon show himself in public.”
Mr. Hu, who claims a certain closeness to power, in the evening published two videos of the player “having dinner with her coach and friends in a restaurant” in Beijing, which were filmed on the same day, according to her.
AFP was unable to confirm the location or the circumstances in which the photos were taken. Hu Xijin did not mention this on his Weibo account in Chinese.
Dinner and communal living
In the photos, Bing Shuai was surrounded by two women sharing a meal and wine in a bustling setting. A man sits in front of the player and the conversation is about “matches”.
“Tomorrow is November 20th” (Saturday), he said before a guest interrupted him: “It is the twenty-first (tomorrow is Sunday).”
The exchange, apparently in stages, was filmed by an unknown person in the evening on a mobile phone. Peng Shuai looks relaxed.
In a statement on Saturday, WTA president Steve Simon found it “positive” to see the player, but that “video alone is not enough” to show that she is “free in her decisions and actions.” Concern about the health and safety of Peng Shuai.”
Several countries, including the United States and France, said they were “concerned” about the fate of the Chinese player.
On Friday, the United Nations requested proof that she was fine, as the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai (#WhereisPengShuai) spread like wildfire on social media.
Four shots that allegedly happened recently of the tennis champion were posted on the Twitter account Tweet embedwhich the social network described as “Chinese state media”.
AFP was unable to independently determine when these photos were taken, and requests for an explanation from the account writer were not answered.
One of the photos shows the player smiling with a cat in her arms in what appears to be her home. Shown in the background are stuffed animals, a trophy, a Chinese flag, and credits.
Another photo shows a selfie of Peng Shuai with a statue from Kung Fu panda, an animated children’s movie. In the background appears a frame with a picture of Winnie the Pooh.
The English-language Twitter account in question claims that these photos were posted privately by the player on a social network to wish her contacts a “happy weekend”.
Twitter is banned in China and only people with a VPN-like bypass program can access it.
But in recent years, many Chinese diplomats and state media have created accounts there to defend, sometimes stubbornly, China’s view.
Already on Wednesday, Chinese public television CGTN caused problems, by revealing a screenshot of an email attributed to Peng Shuai.
Then the channel intended for a foreign audience claimed that the Chinese player personally sent her to the administration of the WTA, which runs the women’s professional tennis circuit.
On CNN, its boss Steve Simon expressed his bewilderment Thursday over the message in which the champ declared her accusations against Zhang Gaoli “false.”
“I don’t think that’s the truth at all,” Mr Simon said, describing the email in question as “phased”.
Peng Shuai’s case is under scrutiny in China and the player’s entourage declined to comment.
Former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, who was one of China’s seven most powerful politicians from 2013 to 2018, has not responded publicly to the accusations.