Peng Shuai case 'deliberately and maliciously' hyped up, says China in most direct response on tennis star
China in its most direct response said on Tuesday that "certain people" should stop the "malicious hyping and politicisation" of the issue of tennis star Peng Shuai, whose wellbeing has been taken up by foreign governments and organisations.
"I think some people should stop deliberately and maliciously hyping up, let alone politicise this issue," said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in response to a question on whether the case affected China's international image.
Until now, China repeatedly brushed off questions about Peng Shuai’s whereabouts and welfare, saying they “were not a diplomatic issue".
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Peng, the 35-year-old former doubles world number one, disappeared from public view after she posted a message on social media alleging that China's former vice premier Zhang Gaoli—one of China’s most powerful politicians—had sexually assaulted her and they later had an on-off consensual relationship. Evidence of her claims have also been deleted from China's highly censored internet.
She reappeared for the first time over the weekend at a tennis tournament in Beijing after she made the allegations against Zhang on November 2. She also held a video call with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach on Sunday.
"I think some people should stop deliberately and maliciously hyping up, let alone politicise this issue," foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijians said during a regular press briefing.
Zhao was asked whether the case affected China's international image.
"This is not a diplomatic matter. I believe everyone will have seen she has recently attended some public activities and also held a video call with IOC President Bach,” he said.
“I hope certain people will cease malicious hyping, let alone politicisation.”
Peng appeared in a 30-minute video call with the International Olympic Committee chief on Sunday.
But human rights groups and sporting authorities have continued to raise concerns about Peng's welfare and whether authorities will act on her allegations.
"This video does not change our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern," the Women's Tennis Association said.
Reuters reported that Amnesty International's China researcher Alkan Akad told the agency that the video call did little to ease fears over Peng's wellbeing and that the IOC was entering "dangerous waters".
(With agency inputs)