As concerns surrounding tennis sensation Peng Shuai’s whereabouts continue to distress the world, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has announced that its President Thomas Bach will have ‘dinner and a meeting’ with the Chinese star ahead of the Winter Olympics. The meeting, which will mark her first public appearance, will also include representatives of the state-controlled Chinese Olympic Committee, which is the IOC’s partner in staging the games, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Peng Shuai disappeared from public view in early November after she leveled sensational allegations of sexual assault against a retired top official in China’s Communist Party. Given her disappearance and the Xi Jinping-led government’s efforts to snub growing concerns, it is uncertain whether Peng Shuai is in a position to reject this Beijing-monitored dinner invitation or ask for an encounter with Bach or other members of the IOC outside China.

According to HRW, what’s clear is that the Chinese government regularly silences and forcibly disappears people with dissenting views in addition to employing extralegal forms of detention, televised forced confessions, amongst other methods. Interestingly, the Chinese star last month walked back on her sexual assault complaint in a pro-Beijing Singaporean newspaper, stating that she had never accused anyone of sexually assaulting her and that her post had been misunderstood.

“The IOC failed to adopt a human rights framework before these Games that could have protected athletes from Beijing’s censorious han”, asserted HRW.

Peng Shuai’s disappearance

On November 2, Peng took to social media to reveal that she had been sexually assaulted and forced into a sexual relationship with Zhang Gaoli, 75, CPC’s top leader and China’s vice premier (2013-2018). She disappeared shortly after with her social media posts deleted promoting netizens to trend ‘Where Is Peng Shuai’ globally. From tennis champions like Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, and Novak Djokovic to US President Joe Biden, several personalities and media organizations called for ‘verifiable proof’ of Shuai’s whereabouts.

Amidst this, China continued to reiterate its stance of being ‘unaware’ of the controversy surrounding the country’s tennis professionals. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on November 19 told the reporters that Peng’s matter was “not a diplomatic question and I’m not aware of the situation.”

Nearly three weeks after she disappeared. Hu Xijin, Editor-in-chief of state-run media Global Times released two video clips, which show Peng Shuai having dinner with a group of people. In the 1-minute video shared by Hu Xijin, Peng Shuai was seen seated at a table with at least two others (including her coach) seemingly having dinner at a restaurant. However, the clips sparked further suspicion over why state media accounts were attempting to establish her whereabouts.

(With agency inputs)