Concerns mount over Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai
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China’s foreign ministry has hit out at the west and accused unnamed people of ‘malicious hyping’ over the wellbeing of tennis star Peng Shuai. Peng, a former doubles world number one, alleged in a message on Weibo on November 2 that China’s former vice premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her.
She was then not seen in public after the allegation, leading to her wellbeing becoming an international concern.
Chinese state media has since released an email, photos of Peng and organised a video call with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach to prove she is safe.
These attempts at proving Peng’s wellbeing have been met with scepticism, particularly by the Women’s Tennis Association, who threatened to pull their events from China.
Countries are reportedly considering a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, but the foreign ministry played down the incident and insisted it is not an international concern.
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“This is not a diplomatic matter,” the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, told a regular press briefing on Tuesday.
“I believe everyone will have seen she has recently attended some public activities and also held a video call with the IOC president, Bach.
“I hope certain people will cease malicious hyping, let alone politicisation.”
Mentions of Peng’s name have been heavily censored since the 35-year-old made her allegation public.
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However, an online campaign using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai is ongoing, with the likes of Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Andy Murray expressing their concern.
The movement gained further momentum when state media published an email purportedly written by Peng insisting she was ‘fine’.
Peng was seen in Beijing at the weekend and held the video call with Bach on Sunday, with the IOC reporting she was ‘safe and well’.
However, the organisation has since been accused of staging a ‘publicity stunt’ for Beijing as their attempts to declare her safety have been criticised.
Nikki Dryden, a human rights lawyer and former Olympic swimmer for Canada, said: “That’s not a safeguarding call by any means.
“Tennis should have been able to have that call, it should have been a safeguarding officer having that call – not a publicity stunt.”
The suggestions of a ‘publicity stunt’ come as rumours of a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Games are gathering pace. It is reportedly being framed as an ideological dispute between China and the west.
“The ideological conflicts between China and the west will escalate before the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 as anti-Chinese forces will converge to make trouble for China,” the Global Times wrote in an editorial on Monday.
“China used to care about maintaining a harmonious atmosphere with the west and the way being regarded by the rest of the world, particularly by the west. This needs to be changed.”
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