China is facing pressure from the United Nations over Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai as the world body, on Friday, demanded proof of her whereabouts and well-being.
In the United States meanwhile, President Joe Biden’s administration wanted China to “provide independent, verifiable proof” of Peng’s whereabouts and expressed “deep concern” about the former world top-ranked doubles player.
Peng, a former doubles world No. 1, has not been seen in public since she accused the former high-ranking official Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.
The United Nations insisted on a fully transparent investigation into the claims made by Peng against Gaoli, while tennis stars, sports bodies, governments and human rights defenders also spoke up for Peng and demanded information.
The head of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) said he was prepared to cut lucrative business ties with China if Peng remains unaccounted for and her sexual assault allegations are not probed.
WTA president Steve Simon said he is willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Chinese business in one of the WTA’s biggest markets to ensure Peng’s safety.
“We’re definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it,” Simon told CNN.
“Women need to be respected and not censored,” he added.
Novak Djokovic said he backed the WTA’s threat.
“I hope that she’s found and that she’s healthy and that everything is fine, at least the worst is avoided. I support the statement of the WTA as an organisation and also their president absolutely,” said Djokovic, a 20-time Grand Slam champion.
“The whole tennis community needs to back her up and her family and make sure that she is safe and sound. Because if you have tournaments on Chinese soil without resolving this situation it would be a little bit strange, so I understand why the WTA has taken a stance like that.”
Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka have also voiced their concerns for one of China’s greatest ever players.
“I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai,” Williams wrote on Twitter.”This must be investigated and we must not stay silent.”
“It would be important to have proof of her whereabouts and well-being,” Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office, told reporters in Geneva.
“According to available information, Peng, a former world doubles number one, hasn’t been heard from publicly since she alleged on social media that she had been sexually assaulted.
“We are calling for an investigation with full transparency into her allegation of sexual assault.”
China has repeatedly refused to comment on her fate or the case.
But Hu Xijin, the outspoken editor of the Communist Party-owned Global Times, tweeted on Friday that he didn’t believe that “Peng Shuai has received retaliation and repression speculated by foreign media for the thing people talked about”.
Earlier this week, state-run CGTN published a screenshot on Twitter of what it said was an email written by Peng to Simon and other WTA officials.
In the email, Peng claims that her earlier accusations are “not true” and says she is “resting at home and everything is fine”.
But doubts were quickly flagged about the awkward language used in the purported email and the cursor visible in the screenshot. (Source: CNA)