Beijing: Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai has told a French newspaper that international concerns over her well-being are based on a huge misunderstanding and she has denied accusing a senior Chinese official of sexual assault.
The interview with L’Equipe took place under controlled circumstances in Beijing and did not answer some key questions about Peng’s initial allegations of sexual assault and whether she has had any problems with China’s authoritarian government since then.
L’Equipe, which specializes in sports news, published the interview Monday. The publication said it had spoken to the tennis player at a Beijing hotel the day before in an hour-long interview hosted by the Olympic Committee of China.
Also on Monday, the International Olympic Committee released a statement saying that IOC President Thomas Bach dined with Peng on Saturday. That was the day after the Chinese president opened the Winter Olympics in Beijing, which had been overshadowed by international concerns about China’s human rights violations and Peng’s situation.
The IOC said Peng also attended the China-Norway Olympic curling match with Zimbabwean IOC member Kirsty Coventry.
L’Equipe said it should submit questions in advance and an official from the Chinese Olympic Committee attended the discussion and translated Peng’s comments from Chinese.
The newspaper published her comments verbatim, which she said was another prerequisite for a question-and-answer interview. Photos of Peng during the interview showed her wearing a red tracksuit with China in Chinese characters on the front.
L’Equipe asked Peng about a post that appeared briefly in November on her verified account on a leading Chinese social media platform, Weibo, that sparked a storm of international concern about her.
In that post, Peng wrote that Zhang Gaoli, a former deputy prime minister and member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, had forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals. Her post also said that they had sex once seven years ago and that she had feelings for him after that.
Peng disappeared from view shortly after the post, then appeared at some promotional appearances organized by the government. The L’Equipe interview was her first sit-down conversation with non-Chinese media since the impeachment.
In a conversation with L’Equipe, Peng denied having accused Zhang of assault.
Sexual violence? I never said that someone forced me to subject myself to a sexual assault, the newspaper quoted her as saying.
This message caused a huge misunderstanding from the outside world, she also said.
My wish is that the meaning of this message is no longer skewed.
The long post quickly disappeared from Peng’s account. When asked why by L’Equipe, she said: I cleared it.
Why? Because I wanted to, she added.
In the interview, Peng did not directly answer a question about whether she had come into contact with Chinese authorities since the post. Instead, she responded with an accurate response that reflected the views often expressed by the Chinese government on sports and politics.
First of all, I had to say that emotions, sports and politics are three clearly separate things, the newspaper quoted her as saying.
My romantic problems, my private life, should not be mixed with sports and politics.
When asked how her life has been since the November post, she replied: It’s as it should be: nothing special.
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