Suspicion of alleged email from tennis star Peng Shuai amid worries about her whereabouts

Leader Women’s Tennis Association cast doubt on an email claiming to be from Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, saying it only raised concerns about her safety.

Chinese state broadcaster CGTN released the email, purportedly from Peng, in the early hours of Wednesday morning local time, amid growing international concern about her whereabouts.

One of China’s most famous tennis stars, Peng has not been seen in public since she accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex at his home three years ago. , according to a screenshot of a deleted social media post on Nov. 2.

Her post on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, was deleted within 30 minutes of publication, with Chinese censors quickly working to wipe away any mention of the allegation online. Her Weibo account, which has more than half a million followers, remains blocked from searchers on the platform.

The email – which has not been verified by CNN – insists Peng is fine and appears to deny her sex allegations. It was sent to WTA President and CEO Steve Simon, CGTN reported.

Simon has said that he doubts the email is authentic.

“Today’s statement by Chinese state media regarding Peng Shuai only adds to my concerns about her safety and whereabouts,” Simon said in a statement. “It is very hard for me to believe that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or to believe what is being attributed to her.”

He added: “Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or threat from any source. Her allegations of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and uncensored.”

The alleged email was only released by CGTN in English, and the Chinese domestic media did not report on its content, although Peng is a household name in China.


Following the WTA’s decision to issue a statement asking China to respond to Peng’s allegations on Sunday, a growing number of prominent athletes have spoken out on the matter.

“Censorship is never okay at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and well. I am in shock with the current situation and I am sending her love and light. that,” said tennis superstar Naomi Osaka. a statement on Twitter on Tuesday, along with the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.

Tennis legend and 39-time Grand Slam champion Billie Jean King said on Twitter, “Hopefully Peng Shuai is found safe and her accusations are fully investigated.”

And former world No. 1 Chris Evert said, “these accusations are very disturbing.”

“I’ve known Peng since she was 14; we should all be worried; this is serious; where is she? Is she safe? Any information would be appreciated,” she said. in a post on Twitter.

The popularity of tennis in China has grown rapidly over the past few decades, with a number of Chinese players entering the global rankings. Women’s sport in particular is a big market, thanks in part to the success of Chinese tennis star Li Na, who in 2011 became Asia’s first Grand Slam women’s singles champion. winning the French Open, then the second major title at the 2014 Australian Open.

In recent years, the WTA has made a big push into China. In 2019, China hosted several WTA tournaments, including the first WTA Finals held in Shenzhen that year. The event will return to the Chinese city from 2022 and be held every year until 2030, according to the WTA.

The WTA’s direct and public interference is unusual for an international sports body. Criticism of China, which is also hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics in February, has previously led to public and political backlash, as well as loss of access.

In 2019, the National Basketball Association (NBA) was caught between free speech and the lucrative Chinese market when Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong. The reaction from China has been harsh, with the NBA’s Chinese partners suspending ties, and state broadcaster CCTV halting all broadcasts of pre-season games.

Last month, the NBA faced a similar firestorm with social media posts by Enes Kanter at the Boston Celtics center, raising awareness of China’s treatment of the Uyghur, West community Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong.


Peng’s explosive #MeToo allegations against former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli have continued to reverberate across China, despite authorities’ efforts to remove any mention of a politically sensitive scandal such treatment.

Zhang, 75, served on the seven-man Politiburo Standing Committee of the ruling Communist Party – the country’s supreme governing body – from 2012 to 2017 during the leader’s first term in power China Xi Jinping. He retired as deputy prime minister in 2018.

In her post, seen as an open letter to Zhang, the 35-year-old tennis star alleges an intermittent relationship lasting at least 10 years.

“Why do you have to come back to me, take me to your house to force me to have sex with you?” she writes.

Peng said she had no evidence to substantiate her allegations, adding that Zhang was always worried that she would record everything.

Peng wrote: “I cannot express how disgusted I am, and how many times have I asked myself if I am still human? I feel like a walking corpse.” .

CNN was unable to independently verify Peng’s post, and has reached out to both her and China’s State Council, which handles press inquiries to the central government, for comment.

Jennifer Hsu, a research fellow in the diplomacy and public opinion program at the Lowy Institute, said Beijing was “deeply aware” of the negative light that Peng’s accusations against the Chinese Communist Party cast.

She said it was possible that “the email was shared to an international audience to prevent further international scrutiny of the party-state.”

“Those who accuse current government officials or former officials in China can expect consequences,” Hsu said. “The public accusation against the former deputy premiere could perhaps lead other women to make allegations of sexual misconduct by Communists and this is something the party wishes to prevent. . And so Peng Shuai’s ‘disappearance’ was probably a strategy used to prevent other accusers from continuing.”

On Wednesday, China dodged media questions about Peng’s allegations against Zhang.

Chinese Ministry of Public Security spokesman Zhao Lijian suggested that reporters should contact the “authoritative department”, although reporters commented that the Ministry of Public Security lacked a response.

Speaking at a press conference, Zhao was asked about the WTA’s concerns about Peng’s “safety and whereabouts” and whether the government plans to take any action, to which Zhao said. the matter is “not a diplomatic one”, declining to comment further. .

When asked again on Thursday about Peng’s whereabouts, Zhao repeated that her sexual assault allegations were not a diplomatic matter and declined to comment further.

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