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EU wants proof that Chinese tennis player is safe

November 30, 2021

Peng Shuai disappeared on November 2 after posting a message on social media alleging that a top Chinese official had sexually assaulted her. She re-appeared two weeks later, but concerns about her safety remain.

Peng Shuai in a press conference
Peng Shuai Peng is a three-time tennis Olympian and former doubles world number oneImage: VCG/MAXPPP/picture alliance

The European Union urged China on Tuesday to provide proof of tennis star Peng Shuai's well-being. It was the latest expression of concern from the international community about the fate of the Chinese athlete after she accused a former top Chinese official of sexual assault.

"The EU joins growing international demands, including by sport professionals, for assurances that she is free and not under threat," the EU's foreign service said in a statement.

"The EU requests the Chinese government to provide verifiable proof of Peng Shuai's safety, well-being and whereabouts," the statement said, while also urging Chinese authorities to carry out a "full, fair and transparent investigation into her allegations of sexual assault."

Peng, a three-time Olympian and former doubles world number one, disappeared on November 2 after posting a message on social media alleging that China's former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her. The post was removed within minutes by internet censors.

After a global outcry, she re-appeared two weeks later in Beijing, when she held a video call with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach. 

But the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) has said this did not address or alleviate concerns about her health and safety, something the EU also echoed.

"Her recent public reappearance does not ease concerns about her safety and freedom," an EU spokesperson said.

Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli in a press conference
Former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli was part of the powerful seven-member Politburo Standing CommitteeImage: Lintao Zhang/AP/picture alliance

Peng's case censored in China

The tennis star adds to a growing number of Chinese businesspeople, activists and ordinary people who have disappeared from public view in recent years after criticizing party figures, or in crackdowns on corruption or pro-democracy and labor rights campaigns.

All content regarding Peng's social media post and disappearance from public view has been blocked from direct discussion on China's internet.

The Chinese government has not commented on Peng's allegations. But Beijing blasted the international community for "politicizing" the case, saying it was being "maliciously hyped up."

Zhang has not spoken publicly about the incident, and he has not been a part of the Chinese government since he stepped down from the powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee about three years ago.

jcg/nm (Reuters, AP)