“The brazen efforts to silence Peng Shuai seem at odds with China’s focus on making the Beijing Olympics a success,” said Natasha Kassam, the director of public opinion and foreign policy at the Lowy Institute and a former diplomat in Beijing.

First came the shocking #MeToo accusation by a famous athlete against one of China’s top leaders. Then came the accuser’s disappearance from public view, one so thorough that questions swirled about her health and personal safety.

The authorities in China had hoped the apparatus of a repressive state could simply make the whole thing go away. Instead, an accusation by the tennis player Peng Shuai that she was sexually assaulted by a former vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, continues to confront the political establishment as few things have, reports the New York Times.

The latest pushback on China’s effort to squelch the accusation came early on Thursday after Chinese state media tried to refute it, while saying Ms. Peng was safe and sound. It published an email purportedly written by Ms. Peng herself, saying the sexual assault accusations were not true and asking for officials who run women’s tennis to stop meddling.

The response by the Women’s Tennis Association just hours later was unequivocal, suggesting that the email was very likely a crude fraud. “I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her,” said Steve Simon, the association’s executive director.

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