CHINA: In attendance at the 20th Communist Party Congress on Sunday was former vice premier of China Zhang Gaoli, who, for the first time since tennis player Peng Shuai accused him of sexual assault last year, made an appearance in public.
Behind President Xi Jinping and other current and former leaders, Zhang, 75, entered the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and took a seat in the front row of the platform for the start of the twice-yearly gathering. Regarding the allegations, Zhang has not responded publicly.
In a post that was quickly removed from China’s internet, Peng made her claim in November on social media. Later, she said that she had never levelled the charge. Worldwide outrage over her safety resulted from her tweet, which prompted the Women’s Tennis Association to halt competitions in China.
Zhang was one of several important leaders, including Hu Jintao, Xi’s immediate predecessor, who joined the party general secretary on stage in a customary display of unity at the start of a week-long meeting that was anticipated to extend Xi’s rule for a third term and solidify his status as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
Hu, 79, walked onto the platform just following Xi and looked somewhat wobbly but otherwise healthy. Hu took a seat next to Xi. Premier Li Keqiang’s predecessor, Wen Jiabao, was also present. Hu’s predecessor Jiang Zemin, who was 96, did not make an appearance.
On the podium were several retired leaders, including Jia Qinglin and Zeng Qinghong, who had formerly served on the party’s ruling Standing Committee, an elite body that controls China.
The People’s Republic of China’s founder Mao and the reformer Deng Xiaoping were among the leaders who were remembered during a minute of silence before Xi’s nearly two-hour speech to the congress.
Deng Pufang, the eldest son of Deng and a wheelchair user, was also present and sat in the audience in the back on the main stage.
In 1968, at the height of the Cultural Revolution Mao had sparked, he fell mysteriously from a building at Peking University and became paralyzed from the waist down.