China’s Foreign Ministry is maintaining it is not aware of the controversy surrounding Peng Shuai, the tennis professional who disappeared after accusing a former top official of sexually assaulting her.
- The US has demanded “independent and verifiable proof” of Ms Peng’s safety
- Top-ranked men’s player Novak Djokovic says tournaments in China should be cancelled until the issue is resolved
- A Foreign Ministry spokesperson told reporters he was “not aware of the situation”
Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters the matter was “not a diplomatic question and I’m not aware of the situation”.
The ministry has consistently disavowed knowledge of the issue since Ms Peng made her accusation more than two weeks ago.
The 35-year-old former top-ranked player in women’s doubles won titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.
Ms Peng also participated in three Olympics, and her disappearance is getting more attention as Beijing prepares to host the Winter Games starting on February 4.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Chinese authorities should “provide independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe”.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman wrote on Twitter: “We are deeply concerned by reports that tennis player Peng Shuai appears to be missing, and we join the calls for the PRC (People’s Republic of China) to provide independent, verifiable proof of her whereabouts.”
Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN human rights office in Geneva, said it was calling for “an investigation with full transparency into her allegation of sexual assault”.
“And I think we would say that that should be the case into all allegations of sexual assault. It is really important to ensure accountability, to ensure justice for the victims,” she said.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) declined to comment, saying in an emailed statement: “Experience shows that quiet diplomacy offers the best opportunity to find a solution for questions of such nature.”
“This explains why the IOC will not comment any further at this stage.”
Top-ranked men’s player Novak Djokovic, one of several tennis stars to speak up about Ms Peng’s situation, said he would support a decision to cancel tournaments in China unless the issue was resolved.
“This is horrifying. I mean, a person is missing,” Djokovic said at the ATP Finals in Turin, Italy.
Ms Peng wrote in a lengthy social media post on November 2 that she was forced to have sex three years ago with Zhang Gaoli in his home despite repeated refusals.
Mr Zhang, 75, is a former vice-premier who was a member of the ruling Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee.
The post was quickly deleted from Ms Peng’s verified account on Weibo, a leading Chinese social media platform, but screenshots of the accusation were shared on the internet.
Steve Simon, the chairman and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, questioned the authenticity of what a Chinese state media outlet said this week was an email intended for him in which Ms Peng said she was safe and the assault allegation was untrue.
It was shared on Twitter by CGTN, the international arm of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
The State Council Information Office, which represents the Chinese government, did not respond to emailed questions about Ms Peng’s current situation and Mr Simon’s doubts about the email.