Footage is ‘insufficient’ to dismiss concerns about her health and safety, says WTA chief
Footage has been posted online appearing to show missing Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai smiling at a restaurant.
The video was shared by state media on Saturday in an attempt to dispel worldwide fears about her safety, although the chief of the Women’s Tennis Association said it is “insufficient” to quash all concerns.
The 67-second film purports to show the former Wimbledon doubles champion, who hasn’t been heard from directly for more than a fortnight, smiling and laughing while having dinner with her coach and friends in a restaurant.
It was one of two clips posted on Twitter by the editor of the state-affiliated Global Times, Hu Xijin, who claimed they “clearly shows they are shot on Saturday Beijing time”.
The videos emerged hours after the White House and the United Nations joined demands to establish the whereabouts and welfare of Peng, who had not been seen in public since making allegations of sexual assault against former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli.
Peng made her allegation against Mr Zhang in a lengthy post on Weibo, one of China’s largest social media sites, 上 2 十一月. The post was quickly deleted and the CGTN cable TV news channel later distributed a statement that purported to be Peng’s retraction of the complaint.
Mr Zhang was a member of the nation’s highest ruling council, the Politburo Standing Committee, and a close ally to Chinese president Xi Jinping.
The new footage, which emerged a day after fellow players called for “real proof” of Peng’s whereabouts, is unlikely to head off concerns about her safety.
Steve Simon, the chairman and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, said that the video was “insufficient” on its own.
“I am glad to see the videos released by 中国 state-run media that appear to show Peng Shuai at a restaurant in Beijing,” he said in a statement.
“While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference. This video alone is insufficient.
“As I have stated from the beginning, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai’s health and safety and that the allegation of sexual assault is being censored and swept under the rug. I have been clear about what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads.”
The Foreign Office also called for “verifiable evidence” that Peng is safe, with a spokesperson saying: “The Chinese authorities should urgently provide verifiable evidence of her safety and whereabouts.
“Everyone should be allowed to speak out without fear of repercussions. All reports of sexual assault, anywhere in the world, should be investigated.”
Some social media users were also quick to cast doubt on the date of the video, while others suggested that it was “stage managed”.
Chinese human rights activist Teng Biao, a lawyer who fled China in 2014, commented: “The more you release, the more you give yourself away.”
The organisers of Wimbledon had earlier joined the calls for confirmation of Peng’s wellbeing to be provided.
A statement read: “We are united with the rest of tennis in the need to understand that Peng Shuai is safe. We have been working in support of the WTA’s efforts to establish her safety through our relationships behind the scenes.
“Along with the global tennis community, we would like Peng Shuai to know that her wellbeing is of the utmost importance to us, and we will continue to work to gain clarity on her safety.”
Meanwhile a senior Conservative MP called for the UK government to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told Radio 4: “What we should be doing absolutely is coming out clearly now and saying we are, as a government, no officials and no ministers, including embassy staff go to the Winter Olympics.
“We should come out with that straight away, not wait for somebody else to do it. That would send a very strong signal to them.”