Where is Zhang Gaoli? Chinese politician accused by tennis star Peng Shuai out of sight

Even as Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai appeared on a video call with the Olympic chief, the former deputy prime minister accused him of sexual harassment, keeping quiet and the secrecy covering China’s political elite. retained the veil.

Zhang Gaoli, who turns 75 this month, was accused by the former Olympian of forcing her to have sex three years ago in a social media post on November 2. Peng said he and Zhang, who was deputy prime minister at the time Beijing was awarded the upcoming Winter Games, had an on-off agreement until breaking ties with him.

Her post was taken down shortly after it was published and the subject was blocked online in China. But when she disappeared from public view for nearly three weeks, international concern for her safety ignited, accompanied by the #WhereIsPengShuai hashtag.

Peng, 35, made several appearances last weekend, including a video call with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, but he failed to clear doubts among fellow athletes and global organizations over his well-being. Amnesty International accused the IOC and Bach of participating in a “whitewash of potential human rights violations” by China ahead of the Games in February.

Less attention has been paid to Zhang, who retired in 2018 and, like almost all top Chinese leaders, remains out of the public eye in retirement. He and the Chinese government have not commented directly on Peng’s claims, which Reuters has been unable to verify.

China’s State Council Information Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and did not comment on Peng’s post or make Zhang available for comment.

“Letting Zhang go so far as to speak would be a reputational loss that he doesn’t want right before the Winter Games,” said Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.

“Even if the party decides to take internal disciplinary action against Zhang, they will not announce it immediately, but will wait for the first storm to subside, to show strength,” he said.

tianjin boss

Zhang’s last appearance was on July 1, when he sat on the southern ramparts of the Forbidden City in Beijing for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Communist Party of China. The site is not far from the Great Hall of the People where six years ago they made a “serious commitment” to a successful Winter Games at the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee’s launch ceremony.

From 2007 to 2012 – Zhang was the top political leader in Tianjin City. Under his supervision, the once run-down provincial-level metropolis to the southeast of Beijing became China’s fastest-growing region in 2011.

As Ranking Vice Premier from 2013 to 2018, he was in charge of economic affairs, including President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, and the “leading small group” overseeing the Winter Olympics before handing it over to current Vice Premier Han Zheng in 2018. “led. ,

According to a report on the Chinese government’s English-language website, in 2016, he himself met with Bach, telling the IOC boss that “work is being done to ensure that the 2022 Beijing Winter Games are spectacular, extraordinary and outstanding.” “.

Peng alleged in her Weibo post that she first met Zhang and had sex with him in Tianjin. She said that soon after Zhang retired, he got in touch again through a sports doctor and rekindled the relationship.

“You stopped contacting me after I got promoted to Beijing. I wanted to bury everything inside my heart. Since you don’t intend to take responsibility, why did you still find me, and make me want to have sex with you? Forced to. House?” she wrote.

Peng also alleged in his post that Zhang’s wife, Kang Jie, knew about the relationship. As is the case with the wives of most political leaders in China, little is known about Kang, including his age. The couple has a son.

history of silence

Experts say Zhang’s silence matches how party leaders have dealt with allegations in the past from the Panama Papers to allegations of corruption to rumors of extramarital affairs.

Describing a massive campaign to root out corruption as a hallmark of his nine-year tenure, Xi demanded that party officials “be able to pass the toughest test” of political, professional and family morality.

Zhang’s only option is silence, according to Chen Doyin, who was formerly an associate professor at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law and is now based in Chile, where he is following the matter closely.

“If he denies, he will not be credible, because as a result of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, everyone in China now knows that it is common for Chinese officials to use power for sex,” Chen said.

Typically, allegations of sexual misconduct are mentioned by authorities only after an investigation into political or economic crimes, almost added as a serious factor.

After struggling to gain traction, China’s #MeToo movement has come into renewed focus following the Peng case. No high-level party official has been accused of the same kind of accusations as Zhang.

“The party sees itself as above the law and is not accountable to anyone other than its leaders,” said Wu Qiang, a Beijing-based writer.

“If she accepts Peng’s charge, Peng could become a symbol that China’s feminist movement can rally around, potentially becoming a challenge to the power of the party,” Chen said, Former Associate Professor of the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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