China’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday it hoped the “malicious hype” over the whereabouts and well-being of tennis star Peng Shuai would stop, and that her case would not be politicized.
In its first reaction to the case, the ministry’s spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, said “some people” should stop the “malicious hype” and “politicization” of tennis star Ping’s case, as global scrutiny continues to be led by foreign governments and sports and rights organizations to ask questions about her safety.
The whereabouts of Peng, the former world number one in doubles and one of China’s most prominent tennis icons, has been of international concern since November 2 when she posted a message on social media alleging that former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her. . Peng’s post was immediately deleted and her presence removed from the tightly censored Chinese Internet.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has so far refused to comment on the case, saying it is not a diplomatic issue.
Zhao responded on Tuesday for the first time, dismissing international concern about Ping’s whereabouts as propaganda and politics.
“I think everyone saw her attending some public events recently as well as the video call with IOC President (Thomas) Bach,” Zhao said at the ministry’s regular briefing on Tuesday.
When asked if the tennis player’s case will negatively affect China’s image, Zhao said, “I think some people should stop making malicious hype and not politicize this issue.”
Earlier this week, IOC President Thomas Bach spoke with Peng via video call, her first direct contact with sports officials outside China since November 2.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and Amnesty International said the call did not ease concerns about Bing’s safety.
“This video does not alter our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her sexual assault allegations, an issue that raised our initial concern,” the WTA said.
“The International Olympic Committee enters dangerous waters. “They should be very careful not to get involved in any whitewashing of potential human rights violations,” said Alkan Akkad, a researcher at Amnesty International in China.
“In the past, we have seen various similar cases where people had no choice but to say what they were told,” he said.
“The Chinese government has a track record, especially the state-run media, of fabricating statements or having people give forced and sometimes televised testimonies soon after people are missing,” Al-Akkad said.
On Sunday, Chinese state media published a video and photos of Ping at a youth tournament in Beijing.
The video was posted by Hu Shijin, editor-in-chief of the state newspaper Global Times, who said on Twitter that the video was filmed on Sunday.
Ping was seen standing beside the court, waving and signing large commemorative tennis balls for the children.
“While seeing her is positive, it remains unclear whether she is free and able to make decisions and take action on her own, without coercion or outside interference,” WTA president Steve Simon said in response to the footage.