Chinese officials remain silent about missing tennis star after allegations of sexual assault, Xi attacks may be linked

Chinese officials have remained silent or even evaded questions about the missing tennis player Peng Shuai after sending an email, which she allegedly sent to the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).

Tennis players around the world have called for an investigation into allegations made by Peng, 35, in a social media post describing sexual abuse she was subjected to at the hands of former Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli.

Peng claimed that Zhang, 75, forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals after a round of tennis three years ago. She further claimed that Zhang’s wife guarded the door during the incident.

“Yes, apart from myself, I kept no evidence, no footage, no videos, only the real experience of my twisted self. Even if I destroy myself, like throwing an egg at a rock, or a moth flying into a flame., I will still tell the truth about us, “it said in the now deleted post.

The post was quickly deleted from her verified account on Weibo, a leading Chinese social media platform, but screenshots of the explosive charge quickly spread across China’s internet.

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China’s state-controlled media appear to have suppressed any reporting on the case. Peng also disappeared from the public eye since the posting two weeks ago, which raised questions about where she is and whether she will be detained.

Asked repeatedly about the case, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said again Thursday that he is not aware of it. Chinese celebrities have been subjected to oppression and censorship in their country whenever they criticize the actions of government or officials – especially if these comments shed light of inappropriate light on the nation.

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Searches for Peng Shuai’s name on China’s Sogou search engine only show articles about her tennis career. Her account on Weibo no longer allows comments, and no results appear if people search for her Weibo account.

China has largely suppressed a #MeToo movement that flourished briefly in 2018 and continues with the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February despite boycott calls from activists and some overseas politicians over China’s human rights record.

Chinese state-affiliated business CGTN sent an email Friday claiming Peng had been sent to WTA chief Steve Simon.

In the email, Peng insisted that the allegations of sexual assault were “not true”, and Peng further claimed that she was neither “disappeared” nor “insecure”. She requested that any information that the WTA planned to publish first get her approval.

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But Simon said the email only raised further concerns and doubts about Peng’s safety.

“The statement issued today by Chinese state media regarding Peng Shuai only raises my concerns regarding her safety and whereabouts,” Simon wrote in a statement. “Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source.”

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Simon has demanded a full investigation and the WTA said it is prepared to pull tournaments out of the country if they do not get an appropriate response.

Tennis players have called for action from the WTA and the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).

Four-time major winner Naomi Osaka posted a statement on Twitter with #WhereIsPengShuai saying “Censorship is never ok at any cost.”

“I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok,” Osaka wrote. “I’m in shock at the current situation and I’m sending love and lighting her way.”

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Swiss player Stanislaw Warinka, who has won three majors, shared a post to encourage #WhereIsPengShuai.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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