A Chinese official hovered over tennis star Peng Shuai as she tried to walk back her damning sex-assault accusation against a Communist Party boss — with one of her interviewers conceding Tuesday that he was likely used for “propaganda.”
Chinese Olympic Committee (COC) Chief of Staff Wang Kan was seen sitting feet away from Shuai in photos published by France’s L’Equipe newspaper of the interview, in which the athlete tried to explain away her earlier sex-attack claim as a “huge misunderstanding.”
Other images caught his reflection in a mirror as he stood with arms folded staring at a “tense” Shuai as she posed for the cameras while wearing a red national tracksuit.
L’Equipe said the interview was arranged and managed by the COC, and was held “in a fancy Beijing hotel” being used by the committee, which is a designated body of the People’s Republic of China.
The official, Kan, brought Shuai to the interview — and then translated her Chinese to English, even though she has previously spoken English at press conferences, L’Equipe noted.
During the chat, Shuai — who has also been paraded at Winter Olympic events this week — made a series of confusing attempts to walk back her public allegations that a former top-ranked Communist Party forced her to have sex.
”I never said anyone had sexually assaulted me in any way,’ she claimed, despite having said so clearly in a social media post in November.
Dismissing it as a “huge misunderstanding,” she still admitted making the initial Weibo post, but insisted she was the one who “erased it” because she “wanted to.”
“I never disappeared,” she also insisted, blaming her absence from the public eye on injuries that may force her to retire at 36.
L’Equipe’s Marc Ventouillac, one of the two interviewers, told The Associated Press Tuesday that Peng “seems to be healthy.”
But asked if he thought the athlete appeared safe, he conceded, “It’s impossible to say.”
He admitted it could be “a part of communication, propaganda, from the Chinese Olympic Committee” to show “there is no problem with Peng Shuai” amid a huge outpouring of concern.
“It’s important, I think, for the Chinese Olympic Committee, for the Communist Party and for many people in China to try to show: ‘No, there is no Peng Shuai affair,’” Ventouillac told the wire service.
“She answered our questions without hesitating — with, I imagine, answers that she knew. She knew what she was going to say,” Ventouillac said.
“She said what we expected her to say,” while stressing that it did not prove it had been “formatted.”
The Women’s Tennis Association tweeted that it was “good to see” Peng — but stressed that the interview “does not alleviate any of our concerns about her initial post from November 2nd.”
Chinese human rights lawyer Teng Biao was not convinced, telling Germany’s Deutsche Welle that it appeared to be a “forced confession.”
“They would be forced to say what the Chinese authorities told them to say under great pressure. This is certainly the case with Peng,” he said.
Andrea Worden, a lecturer in East Asian studies at Johns Hopkins University, told DW that Kan’s presence suggested that “the Chinese government was in control of the process and the script.”
“He was present to ensure that she would not go off script,” she told the German outlet.
With Post wires