December 7, 2022

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Peng Shuai: Weibo Post Sparked ‘Huge Misunderstanding’

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Tennis star Peng Shuai says there has been a “huge misunderstanding” over a post in which she claimed she was forced into having sexual relations with a former Chinese party leader.

The post on social media was quickly deleted and Ms Peng was not seen for weeks, sparking alarm for her welfare.

The interview, with L’Equipe, was under highly controlled conditions.

The BBC’s Beijing correspondent Stephen McDonell compared it to a propaganda exercise.

French newspaper L’Equipe had to submit questions in advance, and the interview was conducted at the Winter Olympics under the presence of a representative from China’s Olympic Committee. The representative also translated her comments from Chinese.

Ms Peng told the outlet she was living a normal life – a line which has also been used by Chinese state officials about her previously. She also expressed thanks for the concern directed towards her.

“I would like to know: why such concern?… I never said anyone sexually assaulted me,” she told L’Equipe.

On 2 November, Ms Peng had published a 1,600-word essay on Chinese social platform Weibo where she accused former Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex with him.

The post detailed her relationship with him, but also included accusations that on at least one occasion she had felt coerced into sex. The post was shared widely on Chinese social media before it was removed less than an hour after publication.

In the months that followed, Ms Peng denied making the accusations.

In the L’Equipe interview, she repeated the denial.

“This post has given rise to a huge misunderstanding from the outside world. I hope that the meaning of this post will no longer be twisted. And I also hope that we don’t add more hype to this,” she said.

She also added that she had deleted the post herself because she “wanted to”. But she did not elaborate on how the post had been misunderstood.

The interview was granted to the French outlet following permission from the Chinese Olympic Committee. The outlet said despite submitting questions prior to the interview, it was able to ask more on the day.

Every attempt by the Communist Party, at times in collusion with the International Olympic Committee, to play down the Peng Shuai controversy just seems to inflame it, leaving more questions.

In this case, French media outlet L’Equipe, in publishing these latest highly controlled comments has been as much involved in a propaganda exercise as in an “interview”.

The paper said it agreed to publish only her answers and not include any commentary at all around them.

Peng Shuai is reported to have said that she “never said anyone had sexually assaulted me”.

Well the obvious question is: In that case, what did you mean when you wrote on social media about Zhang Gaoli – former Politburo Standing Committee member – and said to him directly and publicly: “带我去你家,逼我和你发生关系” ?

That line could be translated as: “You took me to your house and raped me” or “You took me to your house and forced me to have sex with you” or “You took me to your house and pressured me into having sexual relations with you”.

Having multiple potential translations has caused confusion.

Either way, these are serious allegations about a very senior government figure. We still don’t know what the tennis star meant because L’Equipe did not ask her.

During the interview, the 36-year-old also indicated that she was unlikely to return to the professional tennis circuit.

“Considering my age, my multiple surgeries and the pandemic that forced me to stop for so long, I believe it will be very difficult to regain my physical level,” she told L’Equipe.

The IOC on Monday also reported that the Chinese athlete had had dinner with president Thomas Bach in Beijing on Saturday, a follow-up meeting for the pair.

Mr Bach had been one of the first authorities to vouch for Peng’s welfare after he held a video call with her during the period of concern about her treatment by state authorities.

The IOC has been criticised by some rights groups for failing to address China’s human rights record in the lead up to and amid the Winter Games.

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) led calls for the allegations in the statement to be investigated and pulled all of its events from China in protest.

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