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Missing Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai reappears at public event in Beijing

She reappears amid mounting concern about her whereabouts. (Source: Reuters)

BEIJING: Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai appeared at a Beijing tennis tournament on Sunday, according to official event photos, amid mounting international concern about her whereabouts after she accused a senior Chinese leader of sexual assault.

China Open, which organised the tournament, published pictures of Peng at the Fila Kids Junior Tennis Challenger Finals on Sunday. The photos were posted on the event’s official WeChat page.

Peng can be seen in a navy sports jacket and white track pants at the Fila Kids Junior Tennis Challenger Finals — her first public appearance since her sexual abuse accusations were widely censored on the Chinese internet.

The two-time Grand Slam doubles champion had not been seen or heard publicly since she alleged on Chinese social media that former vice premier Zhang Gaoli, now in his 70s, “forced” her into sex during an on-off relationship spanning several years.

Following a global outcry, including from tennis superstars and the United Nations, Chinese state media reporters have released a flurry of footage purporting to show all is well with Peng.

A video from the event, tweeted by Global Times newspaper editor Hu Xijin, shows Peng standing in a stadium among a group of guests whose names are announced to a smattering of applause.

A Global Times reporter tweeted another video showing Peng signing autographs for children at what appears to be the same stadium before posing for photos with them.

Hu tweeted in English that the second video shows “Peng Shuai was having dinner with her coach and friends in a restaurant. The video content clearly shows they are shot on Saturday Beijing time.” The conversation revolved around “tennis matches”.

‘Insufficient’

Peng’s claims against Zhang were the first time China’s #MeToo movement has touched the highest echelons of the ruling Communist Party. They were quickly scrubbed from the Twitter-like Weibo platform, and concerns have grown for her safety since.

The photographs and video footage of Peng that emerged on Sunday remain “insufficient” and do not address the Women’s Tennis Association’s (WTA) concerns, a spokesperson for the group told Reuters by email.

Of the restaurant videos, WTA boss Steve Simon said he was glad to see the images but “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,” Simon said in a statement.

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