US seeks answers from China on missing tennis player, as #WhereIsPengShuai trends on social media

Saturday, 20 November 2021 (18:35 IST)
Washington/Beijing: The US has asked China to provide "independent and verifiable proof" of the whereabouts of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who has accused a former Vice Premier of China of sexual assault, even as the editor-in-chief of state-owned Global Times said Peng has been staying in her own home "freely" and will make a public appearance "soon".

US President Joe Biden has expressed "deep concern" over the disappearance of Peng Shuai, who went missing after levelling allegations of sexual assault against former Vice-Premier of China Zhang Gaoli.

“We join in the calls for PRC authorities to provide independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe. First, any report of sexual assault should be investigated, and we support a woman’s ability to speak out and seek accountability, whether here or around the world. Second, we’ll continue to stand up for the freedom of speech. And we know the PRC has zero-tolerance for criticism and a record of silencing those that speak out, and we continue to condemn those practices," Biden's press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

US Deputy State Secretary Wendy Sherman in a tweet said: “We are deeply concerned by reports that tennis player Peng Shuai appears to be missing, and we join the calls for the PRC to provide independent, verifiable proof of her whereabouts. Women everywhere deserve to have reports of sexual assault taken seriously and investigated.”

Peng, a former doubles world number one, has not been seen or heard from since she wrote a blog post on Chinese social media on November 2 accusing former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into sex and that they later had an on-off consensual relationship.

Neither Zhang nor the Chinese government have commented on her allegation. Peng's social media blog was quickly deleted and the topic has been blocked from discussion on China's heavily censored internet.

"In the past few days, she stayed in her own home freely and she didn't want to be disturbed. She will show up in public and participate in some activities soon," Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

Hu said he had confirmed through his sources that photos shared on Twitter by a journalist working for Chinese state media, purportedly showing Peng at home, depicted her "current state".

On Friday, unverified photos of Peng were posted online by a state-affiliated journalist.
The Twitter account @shen_shiwei, labelled "Chinese state-affiliated media" by the social network, posted four undated images of her late Friday.

In a tweet, @shen_shiwei said the pictures were shared on Peng's WeChat Moments.Many high-profile tennis stars have taken to social media to express their worry about Peng, 35, with the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai, which is trending on Twitter.

Serena Williams in a tweet said she is “devastated and shocked” at the news of Peng’s disappearance.

“I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent. Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time. #whereispengshuai”, she tweeted.

Top-ranked female tennis player, Naomi Osaka, tweeted that she was "in shock of the current situation" and that "censorship is never ok at any cost."

The head of the Women's Tennis Association Steve Simon has said he is willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business in China if Peng Shuai's is not fully accounted for and her allegations investigated.

Tennis ace Novak Djokovic said: "When I heard the story of Peng Shuai I was shocked. I hope she is well and that we can find her as soon as possible".China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday said it wasn’t aware of the controversy surrounding Peng Shuai.

Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters that the matter was “not a diplomatic question and I’m not aware of the situation.”Peng is a former No. 1-ranked player in women’s doubles who won titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.

Peng’s disappearance comes as China is just two and a half months from hosting the Beijing Winter Olympics, which is facing a diplomatic boycott over allegations of crimes against humanity involving at least one million Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities.

NBA player Enes Kanter has been the most outspoken in defense of the Uyghurs, calling Xi a “brutal dictator.”(UNI)

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