(Beijing) Four clichés and many questions: a smiling Peng Shuai has appeared on social networks, at a time when international pressure is increasing on China to obtain information on the fate of the Chinese player.
Peng Shuai, 35, former world No. 1 doubles player and star in her country, has not come out publicly since revealing an extramarital affair with a powerful ex-Communist Party official, 40 years her senior , and accused him of forced sex.
The message, briefly posted in early November on the player’s official Weibo account before being censored on the Chinese internet, mentions at least one coerced sex.
The fate of Peng Shuai has since been the subject of many questions.
Four pictures of the tennis champion were published late Friday by the Twitter account @shen_shiwei, labeled “media affiliated with the Chinese state” by the social network.
One photo shows the smiling player with a cat in her arms in what appears to be her home. In the background, soft toys, a trophy, a Chinese flag and accreditations are visible.
Another snapshot shows a selfie of Peng Shuai with a Kung Fu panda figure, an animated film for children. In the background appears a frame with a picture of Winnie the Pooh.
The Twitter account in question says in English that these photos were posted privately by the player on a social network to wish “good weekend” to her contacts.
A screenshot is shown as that of Peng Shuai’s personal WeChat account. WeChat is an ultra-popular social network in China.
“At home in freedom”
The words “today” appear in Mandarin next to photos posted by the player’s supposed account, titled “Peng Shuai 2.”
AFP was unable to verify that the WeChat account in question is Peng Shuai’s and that the photos were personally posted by the player.
Requests for an explanation from the Twitter account which publicly took these photos were unanswered immediately.
Twitter is a blocked social network in China and only people with VPN-like bypass software can access it.
In recent years, however, many Chinese diplomats and official media have created accounts there to defend, sometimes doggedly, China’s point of view.
Like Hu Xijin, the influential editor-in-chief of the Global Times, a newspaper with a decidedly nationalist tone.
“I had confirmation from my own sources that these photos are indeed current shots of Peng Shuai,” Mr. Hu wrote on Twitter on Saturday in English.
“In recent days, she has stayed at home in complete freedom and did not want to be disturbed,” he says, adding that Peng Shuai “will soon show up in public”.
“I am convinced that the false speculations (around the fate of Peng Shuai) will end up being denied,” wrote Mr. Hu on Friday, who claims a certain proximity to power.
However, he makes no mention of the case on Weibo, its Chinese equivalent.
Several countries including the United States and France said Friday “concerned” about the fate of the Chinese player.
And the UN has asked for proof that she is doing well, as the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai (# WhereestPengShuai) has spread like wildfire on social media.
In an interview with CNN on Thursday, WTA boss, who runs the women’s professional tennis circuit, Steve Simon, threatened to withdraw women’s tennis competitions from China if the country does not clear up the matter. .
Two weeks after Peng Shuai’s explosive accusations, Chinese state television CGTN on Wednesday released a screenshot of an email attributed to Peng Shuai.
The English-language channel claimed that the Chinese player had personally sent her to the management of the WTA.
On CNN, Mr. Simon expressed his doubts about the authenticity of this message in which the champion declares “false” his accusations against Zhang Gaoli.
“I don’t believe that’s the truth at all,” Simon said, calling the email “staged”.
“If she was forced to write it, if someone wrote it for her, we don’t know […] but until we talk to him in person we won’t be reassured, ”said the WTA official.
The Peng Shuai case is censored in China and the original social media post could not be independently authenticated.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli, who was one of China’s seven most powerful politicians from 2013 to 2018, has never publicly reacted to the accusations.