China’s Foreign Ministry said Friday that it wasn’t aware of the controversy surrounding Peng, who disappeared after accusing a former top official of sexually assaulting her.
Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters that the matter was “not a diplomatic question and I’m not aware of the situation.”
The ministry has consistently disavowed knowledge of the issue since Peng made her accusation more than two weeks ago.
The 35-year-old former top-ranked player in women’s doubles won titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.
She also participated in three Olympics, making her disappearance all the more prominent with Beijing set to host the Winter Games starting Feb. 4.
The Canadian Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Canadian Press.
Tennis Canada issued a statement on Friday saying that along with the rest of the tennis world it has deep concerns for Peng’s health and security. It also called for independent and indisputable proof that Peng is safe.
“We admire the courage Peng Shuai has shown in denouncing the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving allegations of a sexual assault,” Tennis Canada said. “She must be allowed to speak freely without censorship and her allegation must be investigated with full transparency.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked late Thursday about Peng’s disappearance and whether Canadian athletes should still participate in the Beijing Olympics.
“Over the past many months, we have been having conversations with partners and allies around the world about the Beijing Olympics, about what our approach should be,” said Trudeau as he wrapped up a two-day visit to Washington.
His visit to the U.S. capital included a meeting with Joe Biden in the Oval Office, where the U.S. president confirmed he is considering a diplomatic boycott of the Olympic Games next year.
“There are an awful lot of athletes in Canada and around the world who have been training, focused on this very, very much,” Trudeau said. “We’re looking for a way to both be able to see them show their capacities and fulfil all the hard work that they’ve done for many years, while continuing to demonstrate our real concerns with the way the Chinese government has behaved.”
Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the U.N. human rights office in Geneva, said Friday it was calling for “an investigation with full transparency into her allegation of sexual assault.”
The International Olympic Committee declined to comment Friday, saying in an emailed statement: “Experience shows that quiet diplomacy offers the best opportunity to find a solution for questions of such nature. This explains why the IOC will not comment any further at this stage.”
Peng wrote in a lengthy social media post on Nov. 2 that she was forced to have sex three years ago with Zhang Gaoli in his home despite repeated refusals. Zhang, 75, is a former vice premier who was a member of the ruling Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee.
The post was quickly deleted from her verified account on Weibo, a leading Chinese social media platform, but screenshots of the explosive accusation were shared on the internet.
Steve Simon, the chairman and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, questioned the authenticity of what a Chinese state media outlet said this week was an email intended for him in which Peng said she was safe and that the assault allegation was untrue. It was tweeted by CGTN, the international arm of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
— With files from James McCarten in Washington and The Associated Press.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2021.
The Canadian Press