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Chinese govt minder seen watching Peng Shuai during interview

Chinese Olympic Committee official seen in mirror closely monitoring Peng's photo shoot

(Daily Mail screenshot)

(Daily Mail screenshot)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Despite Chinese government attempts to carefully orchestrate a "propaganda" interview with French media, a photo has emerged of an official lurking in the background as Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai (彭帥) poses for the camera.

French sports paper L'Equipe on Monday (Feb. 7) published an interview with Peng, the first of its kind with an independent international media outlet since her explosive Weibo post in November. The terms of the interview were that the questions be submitted in advance, that a Chinese Olympic Committee official be present and translate, and that her comments be published verbatim.

Later that day, the Daily Mail released a photo from the interview in which Peng is grinning for the camera while a Chinese government official can be seen in the mirror monitoring the photo shoot in the background with his arms folded. The newspaper identified the official as Wang Kan (王侃), the Chinese Olympic Committee chief of staff.

Wang was present throughout the interview to serve as Peng's interpreter, despite the fact that she is fluent in English. The L'Equipe team brought their own interpreter to ensure that Wang's translations were accurate.

Marc Ventouillac, one of the two L'Equipe reporters who interviewed Peng, was cited by AP as saying that he is still unsure whether she is actually free. “It’s impossible to say,” he said, adding that even if she is, it does not prove she is safe.

He stated that the purpose of the interview was clear: Chinese officials were hoping to end the controversy to prevent it from overshadowing the Olympics. “It’s a part of communication, propaganda, from the Chinese Olympic Committee,” observed Ventouillac.

The French journalist said the Chinese government is hoping the interview will demonstrate “there is no problem with Peng Shuai. See?" In addition, Ventouillac asserted that Peng's retraction of her earlier sexual assault allegation was an attempt by the Chinese Olympic Committee and Chinese Communist Party to show that "no, there is no Peng Shuai affair."

In response to the interview, Steve Simon, chairman and CEP of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) released a statement on Monday in which he wrote, "It's always good to see Peng Shuai, whether in an interview or attending the Olympic Games." However, Simon stressed that the interview "does not alleviate any of our concerns about her initial post from November 2nd."

On her official Weibo account on Nov. 2, Peng alleged that she had been coerced into having sex by former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli (張高麗) before becoming his mistress. The post was quickly scrubbed from the Chinese internet, and Peng was not seen or heard from for over two weeks before surfacing at staged public events in Beijing and Shanghai.