Chinese state media publishes 'letter' from missing tennis star saying 'everything is fine'

The chairman and CEO of the Women's Tennis Association said the letter has only raised his concern for Peng's safety and whereabouts.

Jean Chien Tay | November 18, 2021, 10:36 PM

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Chinese state media has published a letter that was purportedly from tennis star Peng Shuai, who has been missing from public view since making sexual assault allegations against a former vice premier of China.

Letter claims that "everything is fine"

The letter was published on Thursday, Nov. 18, by Chinese Global Television Network (CGTN), the English language arm of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

The letter claimed that Peng was responding to a statement released by Women's Tennis Association (WTA) on Nov. 14, which called on Chinese authorities to investigate Peng's allegations of sexual assault, and even mentioned that the organisation may halt operations in China if there were no "appropriate results".

Refuting these allegations, Peng purportedly said in the letter that they are "not true".

She also apparently claimed that she was "not missing" not "unsafe".

The letter also requested the WTA to verify any future statements with her and seek her consent before publishing.

According to the Guardian and the BBC's Shanghai correspondent, no other domestic media in China has reported on the letter.

Censored in China within minutes

Peng had previously claimed on Chinese popular social media site Weibo that Zhang Gaoli, who is a former member of the Chinese Communist Party's politburo -- China's top decision-making body -- had sexually assaulted her.

She also alleged that they had a long term on-and-off affair afterwards.

Her post, made on her verified Weibo account, was taken down within minutes, and all references to their names were censored as well.

According to Bloomberg, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officially bans cadres from having extramarital relationships.

Such behaviour is often cited when charging senior officials with corruption.

WTA not able to reach Peng directly

Despite the letter claiming that Peng was safe and simple "resting at home", the chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of the WTA, Steve Simon, has expressed his doubts, saying that he letter only raised his concerns for Peng's safety and whereabouts.

Speaking to the New York Times on Nov. 14, Simon said that he had received confirmation from the Chinese Tennis Association and other sources that Peng was safe and "not under any physical threat".

However, no one associated with the WTA was able to reach her directly.

According to the BBC, Peng had not been heard from since she made the allegations on Nov. 2

"Hard time" believing the letter was from Peng

Simon also claimed that he "(had) a hard time" believing that the letter was written by Peng.

Simon further stressed that Peng's allegations of sexual assaults must be respected and investigated "with full transparency and without censorship".

Meanwhile, Twitter users have also casted doubts that the letter was written by Peng.


"Burden of proof should be on the Chinese government"

Meanwhile, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said the letter attributed to Peng Shuai "should not be taken at face value".

The CHRD is a coalition of Chinese and international human rights non-governmental organisations.

CHRD's Research and Advocacy Coordinator William Nee added that the Chinese government should bear the burden of proof to prove that Peng is not detained.

Nee further encouraged both men's and women's professional tennis associations to "speak out" about the issue until Peng is verified to be free and unharmed.

Chinese MFA spokesman previously denied knowledge of the allegations

Zhao Lijian, the spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has previously claimed that he had not heard of Peng's sexual assault allegations, according to AFP.

Responding to media queries of WTA's statement on Nov. 15, Zhao said it was not a diplomatic question and did not offer further comments on the issue.

Tennis players concerned and shocked

Before the letter surfaced, several tennis players have expressed their concern and shock over Peng's disappearance.

Four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka tweeted that she was "in shock" over the situation along with the hashtag "Where is Peng Shuai".

"Censorship is never OK at any cost", Osaka added.

The current men's number one, Novak Djokovic described the situation as "terrible" and said Peng's disappearance was "shocking", according to AFP.

Chris Evert, the former world number one also weighed in on the issue, and said Peng's accusations were "very disturbing".

A French professional player and former world number 11 -- Alizé Cornet -- also tweeted "Let's not be silent", with the hashtag "Where is Peng Shuai".

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Top image via @CGTNOfficial & CNN/Getty Images