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Tennis-Peng Shuai appears at China event, WTA still concerned


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© Reuters. Peng Shuai is seen having dinner with her coach and friends at a restaurant in this still image from a social media video, posted by Global Times Editor In Chief, Hu Xijin on November 20, 2021. Hu Xijin/Twitter via REUTERS

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BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, whose whereabouts have been a matter of international concern for weeks, attended a tennis tournament in Beijing on Sunday, according to official photos published by the tournament organised by China Open.

Peng can be seen among guests at the Fila Kids Junior Tennis Challenger Finals, dressed in a dark blue jacket and white trousers, according to the pictures published on the event’s official WeChat page.

The former doubles world number one had not been seen or heard from publicly since she said on Chinese social media on Nov. 2 that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli had coerced her into sex and they later had an on-off consensual relationship.

Neither Zhang nor the Chinese government have commented on her allegation. Peng’s social media post was quickly deleted and the topic has been blocked from discussion on China’s heavily censored internet.

World tennis bodies have expressed concern, with the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) threatening to pull tournaments out of China. The United States and Britain have called for evidence of Peng’s whereabouts and safety.

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

The U.S. and British embassies in Beijing did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment on Peng’s Sunday appearance in the Chinese capital.

The issue of Peng’s safety and whereabouts has emerged as China prepares to host the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February amid calls from global rights groups and others for a boycott over its human rights record.

Hu Xijin, the editor of state-backed newspaper Global Times, tweeted Peng’s appearance at the tournament earlier on Sunday. The Global Times is published by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party.

Videos posted by Hu and a Global Times reporter showed her smiling, waving and signing autographs for children.

The 37-second video https://twitter.com/huxijin_gt/status/1462223089119338498?s=21 Hu posted appears to show Peng standing in a row of people being introduced to the audience. An announcer says, “Two-time Grand Slam champion, former world number one in woman’s doubles – Peng Shuai!” She waves, smiling, and acknowledges applause.

Global Times chief reporter Chen Qingqing posted a 31-second video https://twitter.com/qingqingparis/status/1462230482863542277, apparently from the same event. Peng appears to sign oversized tennis balls for children and pose with them for pictures.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the images, which were both credited to Global Times staffer Cui Meng.

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