Chinese tennis star who disappeared after making sex assault claim denies she made accusation

The Chinese tennis star who sparked global concern when she appeared to suddenly go missing after accusing a government official of sexual assault has appeared in an online video denying she ever made the claim.

Last month, Peng Shuai accused Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier in China, of assaulting her in the past – before disappearing from public view for nearly three weeks.

She has now said that she never actually accused anyone of assaulting her, claiming that a post she made on social media in November has been misunderstood.

In a video posted by Singapore media outlet Lianhe Zaobao on Sunday, she said: "First, I need to stress one point that is extremely important, I have never said or written that anyone has sexually assaulted me, I have to clearly stress this point."

Her comments from a skiing event in Shanghai are the first time she has addressed the alleged incident publicly on camera.


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She added that the comments in question – which were posted to Weibo, before quickly being deleted – were a "private matter" and that "people have many misunderstandings" about it.

Peng Shuai at the Australian Open in January 2020

Peng, who has appeared in photos since her disappearance, albeit with questions around them, added that she has been living at her home in Beijing without any supervision.

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The 35-year-old also said that she had written to the head of the Women's Tennis Association, Steve Simon, last month, denying the assault allegations.

Mr Simon said he had a "hard time believing" that Peng had actually written the email, or its contents.

Analysis by Thomas Cheshire, Asia correspondent

Whatever the circumstances of this video, Peng Shuai's answers give us some useful information.

First, the confirmation that she did write the Weibo post that started all of it – she said that it was her "private matter" and people had "many misunderstandings about it".

So we can take her account on Weibo at face value.

But, if the Weibo post is true, how to square that with her denial that she had said she was sexually assaulted?

Language is crucial here – in her Weibo post Peng never used the Chinese term for "sexual assault".

Instead, saying she was forced to have sex and a relationship with Zhang Gaoli, the high ranking official.

In the West that meets the accepted definition of sexual assault.

In China, it may not.

The biggest question now, though, is about Peng's freedom.

This was a video from a non-Chinese outlet but the event still looked tightly controlled.

Nor did Peng look comfortable answering those questions.

And the nature of China's system – and how it has handled the affair so far – means that any reassurance will be viewed with scepticism.

The WTA has suspended tournaments in China due to the questions surrounding Peng and her disappearance.

The International Olympic Committee has also held two video calls with the tennis player.

The case comes ahead of next year's Winter Olympics in Beijing, which has already seen a number of countries, including the UK, pledge diplomatic boycotts.

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