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China's Shuai Peng during a 2020 WTA Shenzhen Open match in Shenzhen, China. Photo: Zhong Zhi/Getty Images

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has denied that former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli sexually assaulted her, saying there had been a "misunderstanding" over her November social media post about him.

Why it matters: The Women's Tennis Association said that the former world No. 1 doubles player's comments in an interview with a Chinese-language Singaporean outlet, published on Sunday, did not address its concerns about her well-being, per Reuters.

  • Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth tweeted that Peng's apparent retraction was "[o]nly deepening concerns about the pressure to which the Chinese government is subjecting her."

Driving the news: "I have never said or written that anyone has sexually assaulted me, I have to clearly stress this point," Peng said in the interview in Shanghai with Lianhe Zaobao, according to a translation by Reuters.

  • She added that "people have many misunderstandings" about her since-deleted post on Weibo, which she called a "private matter."
  • Peng also denied she'd been placed under house arrest or other restrictions, saying, "Why would someone keep watch over me? I've been very free all along," per a New York Times translation.

What they're saying: The WTA said in a media statement Sunday evening, "We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern."

The big picture: Peng alleged on her Weibo account on Nov. 2 that Zhang forced her to have sex with him and that they had an intermittent consensual relationship for about 10 years, according to screenshots translated by CNN. She said it left her feeling "like a walking corpse."

  • The post was deleted minutes later and Peng disappeared from public view for nearly three weeks, sparking an international outcry that saw the WTA suspend all tournaments in China.
  • Peng re-emerged in late November, when she held a video call with sports officials including International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.
  • Chinese media released a statement from Peng at the time, which Axios' Kendall Baker writes read more like a hostage note, calling the sexual assault allegation "untrue."

Go deeper: Courage vs. coddling with China

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from the WTA.

Go deeper

Dec 21, 2021 - World

Why U.S. giants keep caving to China

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Chinese government increasingly is using its economic weight to reshape global behavior and strengthen its own authoritarianism. And democratic governments have left companies to fend for themselves.

Why it matters: Global businesses and nonprofits learned the hard way this year that taking a stand for democratic values can cause massive revenue losses in the Chinese market.

Hope King, author of Closer
14 mins ago - Economy & Business

Peloton pumps its brakes

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Peloton’s popularity is falling as swiftly as it shot up.

Why it matters: Not all pandemic habits stick around. Peloton's trajectory over the past two years exemplifies how challenging it's been for companies to gauge shifts in consumer demand — particularly in sectors heavily altered by the pandemic.

First look: Senators propose bill to ban corporate PACs

Sens. Jon Ossoff and Mark Kelly. Photos: Chip Somodevilla (left), Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) will soon propose a bill prohibiting for-profit corporations from establishing and managing political action committees, according to a copy of the legislation obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The introduction of "The Ban Corporate PACs Act" comes amid heightened scrutiny on Capitol Hill regarding money in politics, including efforts to bar companies from influencing political campaigns and federal elections. It would likely face a court challenge and First Amendment concerns.