The Chinese government has said the controversy surrounding tennis star Peng Shuai has been “maliciously hyped up”, its most direct response to the sexual assault scandal gripping the news waves .
Peng disappeared from the public eye for almost three weeks after making sexual assault allegations against China’s former vice premier, triggering widespread international concern.
Peng, 35, is one of China’s top tennis players. In a 1,600-word post on Chinese social media platform Weibo earlier this month, she said former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli – who is 75 – had “forced” her to have sexual relations with him.
“Even if it’s just striking a stone with a pebble, or a moth attacking a flame and courting self destruction, I will tell the truth about you,” she wrote.
It was the first time such an allegation had been made against one of China’s senior political leaders. Zhang has not responded to the allegations.
After sharing her post on Weibo, the tennis player was not heard or seen publicly for several weeks. Her safety became a matter of international concern, with prominent players including Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka joining calls from governments and tennis officials demanding to know she was safe.
The outcry prompted Chinese state media to release a series of photographs and videos that appeared to show all was well.
She has since re-appeared in public and even did a video call with the president of the International Olympic Committee to state she was safe but questions remain over her wellbeing.
On Tuesday, November 23, China’s foreign ministry said it was “not a diplomatic matter”.
“I believe you have all seen that she recently attended some public events and had a video call [with the president of the International Olympic Committee],” spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.
“I think some people should stop deliberately and maliciously hyping [the issue] up, let alone politicise this issue,” he said.