Zhang is not only a former deputy prime minister, but a retired member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party. Zhang is said to have always been careful to attract as little attention as possible to a state representative of his size. According to a report in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” (“SZ”), one of his sponsors was the father of the current President Xi Jinping.
During his active time he had the reputation of a powerful and very skillful technocrat, according to the “WSJ”. That is why he was commissioned to solve extremely important tasks in Beijing’s eyes. This also included China’s application for the Olympic Games in 2022. Zhang chaired a steering group that, according to the documents of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), was supposed to “guide, support and supervise” the application.
“Instructions for just about anything”
The group also included the “heads of all relevant ministries”, as stated in the “WSJ” in the IOC documents. This role also brought Zhang together with high-ranking IOC officials, including IOC President Thomas Bach. In his role as Vice Prime Minister, Zhang once again welcomed foreign state guests.
Official announcements by the Chinese government “celebrated” Zhang as head of the steering group. He gave instructions for just about everything, from the construction of the stadiums to transportation issues, it said. In 2018, Zhang finally handed over the tasks to his successor when he retired.
Disappeared for two weeks after serious allegations
Peng, a double winner at Wimbledon and the French Open, had not been seen in public for more than two weeks after making allegations of rape against Zhang, now 75, on the Weibo online service on November 2. Peng accuses Zhang of forcing her to have sex in the past. Peng and Zhang had had a relationship with many interruptions for years.
Most Chinese are unlikely to have heard of Peng’s allegations. The allegations were quickly removed from the online services by the Chinese censorship authorities – the media talked about only twenty minutes. Internet users had taken screenshots of Peng’s corresponding Weibo contribution. However, these were also deleted by the censorship authorities.
Video call creates excitement
At the weekend, the 35-year-old was seen in public for the first time – according to recordings in state media – when she attended a tennis tournament in Beijing. On Sunday, according to the IOC, she made a video call with its President Bach.
The video call sparked heated controversy. Among other things, the WTA, the sports association Global Athlete and Amnesty International were irritated and accused the IOC of being complicit in this. In a statement on Monday evening, however, the IOC resisted. “The main purpose of the call was to inquire about the welfare and safety of Peng Shuai,” the message said. “Protecting the well-being of athletes is of paramount importance to the IOC and the Olympic Movement. We agreed to keep in touch and she agreed to meet in Beijing in January. “
Handshake between Zhang and IOC President
In the 30-minute video link with Bach, the 35-year-old world-class doubles player asked that her privacy be respected in every respect. “Please understand that we will not comment further out of consideration for your privacy,” said the IOC.
Prior to the interview, Peng’s whereabouts and her safety were in the foreground, and Zhang received relatively little attention, according to the WSJ. That changed shortly after the video call, however, when a photo from 2016 showing IOC President Bach with Zhang shaking hands in Beijing made the rounds on social networks. The IOC sees “no problem” in the connection between Bach and Zhang in the Peng affair.
“Like representatives of governments, companies, international organizations and many others, representatives of the IOC meet regularly with their colleagues. This is publicly known, “it said, according to the” WSJ “in a statement by IOC spokesman Mark Adams.
International clarification called for
Even after the conversation with Bach, of which no content was known, one continues to worry about Peng internationally. The EU has asked China to provide “verifiable evidence” of Peng’s whereabouts and welfare and to investigate the rape allegations. “We are pressing for a full and transparent investigation,” said the EU’s foreign policy spokeswoman, Nabila Massrali, to the AFP news agency on Tuesday.
Brussels took note of the pictures from a public appearance of the tennis player at the weekend. “However, the information about the abuse allegations and the fact that she has not been seen for two weeks remains very worrying,” said Massrali. Inquiries about Peng’s welfare are still “legitimate”.
Human rights groups and sports authorities also remained concerned about Peng’s welfare and doubted the authorities would respond to their allegations. The UN, the US and the UK had also requested evidence of Peng’s well-being.
China: subject maliciously exaggerated
China’s government commented directly on the Peng affair for the first time on Tuesday. A Foreign Ministry spokesman reacted angrily at a press conference on whether China’s international reputation was suffering from the case: “I think some people should stop deliberately and maliciously exaggerating, let alone politicizing, this issue,” said Zhao Lijian. “I think you all saw that she recently attended public events and had a video call with IOC President Thomas Bach,” Zhao continued. Beijing had long declined to comment because it was not a diplomatic matter.