BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli made his first public appearance on Sunday since Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai accused him of sexual assault last year, attending the 20th Communist Party Congress.
Zhang, 75, walked onstage at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing behind President Xi Jinping and other retired and current leaders, and sat in the front row of the podium for the opening of the twice-a-decade meeting.
He has made no public comment on the accusation.
Peng made her accusation on social media in November in a post that was soon scrubbed from China’s internet. She later denied having made the accusation.
Her post led the Women’s Tennis Association to suspend tournaments in China and caused an international outcry over her safety.
Zhang was among a number of senior figures, including Xi’s immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao, who joined the party general secretary onstage in a traditional show of unity at the opening of a week-long meeting expected to renew Xi’s leadership for a third term, cementing his position as China’s strongest ruler since Mao Zedong.
Hu, 79, slightly unsteady but appearing healthy, followed immediately behind Xi onto the stage and sat next to Xi.
Wen Jiabao, who preceded Premier Li Keqiang in office, also attended.
However, Jiang Zemin, 96 and Hu’s predecessor, did not appear.
Other retired leaders on the rostrum included other former members of the party’s elite Standing Committee, which rules China, including Jia Qinglin and Zeng Qinghong.
Before Xi opened the congress with a nearly two-hour speech, delegates bowed their heads for a moment of silence for deceased leaders including Mao, the founder of the People’s Republic of China, and the reformist Deng Xiaoping.
Deng’s wheelchair-using eldest son Deng Pufang was there too, sitting in a back row on the main stage.
He was paralysed from the waist down after mysteriously falling from a Peking University building in 1968 at the height of the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution unleashed by Mao.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Writing by Ben Blanchard and William Mallard)