File photo taken in January 2020 shows Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai playing in the women’s singles at the Australian Open in Melbourne. (Kyodo)

KYODO NEWS

Chinese female tennis star Peng Shuai emphasized she never accused anyone of sexually assaulting her and she has been free, a Singapore newspaper has reported, with a tennis organization remaining concerned over her safety.

It was apparently the first time that Peng has accepted an interview with an overseas media outlet since she alleged in November that she had been forced by a former vice premier into having sex during a certain period of their extramarital relationship.

But it is still unknown whether Peng’s remarks to Singapore’s Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao, released on Sunday, are her real intentions, given that they are in line with claims by Chinese authorities, foreign affairs experts said.

Reuters reported Monday that the Women’s Tennis Association, which has pledged to suspend all tournaments in China amid mounting fears about the safety of Peng, has said in a statement, “We certainly hope she is doing well.”

The WTA, however, said the interview does not alleviate its “significant concerns about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion,” asking China to conduct a “fair and transparent investigation” on the issue, according to Reuters.

On Nov. 2, Peng wrote under her real name on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, that she had sexual relations with the now-retired Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of the Chinese Communist Party when he was the top party official of Tianjin.

As the post was quickly deleted online, China has been under pressure over the safety of Peng. While images of her later appeared in state-run media, worries have lingered over whether she is free from government censorship or intimidation.

Peng has won the women’s doubles at Wimbledon and the French Open — two of four major global tournaments. Zhang served as a member of the Politburo of the ruling party’s Central Committee from 2012 through 2017 under President Xi Jinping’s leadership.

The issue surrounding Peng is believed to have become one of the reasons for the U.S. and some other democratic countries such as Britain and Australia to implement a “diplomatic boycott” of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics slated for February.

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