Missing tennis star Peng Shuai reappeared in public Sunday at a youth tournament in Beijing, according to photos released by the organizer, as the ruling Communist Party tried to quell fears abroad while suppressing information in China about Peng after she accused a senior leader of sexual assault.
The post by the China Open on the Weibo social media service made no mention of Peng’s disappearance or her accusation. Peng was shown standing beside a court, waving and signing oversize commemorative tennis balls for children.
The appearance followed an announcement by the editor of a party newspaper Saturday on Twitter, which can’t be seen by most internet users in China, that the three-time Olympian would “show up in public” soon.
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The ruling party appears to be trying to defuse alarm about Peng without acknowledging her disappearance after the former Wimbledon and Paris Open champion this month accused Zhang Gaoli, a member of the party’s ruling Standing Committee until 2018, of forcing her to have sex.
Peng’s disappearance and the government’s silence in response to appeals for information prompted calls for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February, a prestige event for the Communist Party. The women’s professional tour threatened to pull events out of China unless the safety of the former No. 1 doubles player was assured.
Comments on Chinese social media on Sunday criticized the Women’s Tennis Association and others who spoke up about Peng, while comments in Chinese on Twitter poked fun at the awkward release of photos and video.
“When will the WTA get out of China?” said a comment on the Sina Weibo social media service, signed “Sleep Time.”
Peng adds to a growing number of Chinese businesspeople, activists and ordinary people who have disappeared in recent years after criticizing party figures or in crackdowns on corruption or pro-democracy and labour rights campaigns.