China calls for end to ‘malicious hyping’ of Peng Shuai controversy

PHOTO: Reuters file

The Chinese foreign ministry said people should not be "maliciously hyping up" the controversy surrounding tennis player Peng Shuai, as questions over her wellbeing continue.

The remarks by ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian came one day after Peng gave assurances about her safety in a video meeting with the International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach on Sunday.

"This is not a diplomatic matter," Zhao said when asked about Peng during a regular press conference on Tuesday.

"I believe everyone will have seen she has recently attended some public activities and also held a video call with IOC president Bach. I hope certain people will cease malicious hyping, let alone politicisation."

The IOC video marks the first direct contact three-time Olympian Peng has had with an international sports organisation since her disappearance from the public eye nearly three weeks ago, after a post on her Weibo social media account on Nov 2 accused a retired, high-level government official of coercing her into sex.

Peng thanked the IOC for its concern about her well-being and said she was "safe and well" and living at her home in Beijing, but that she would like to have her privacy respected at this time, according to an IOC statement about the call.

Peng's video call with Bach on Sunday came after she appeared at a China open-sponsored youth tennis tournament in Beijing earlier that day, according to photos from the event's official social media channels.

But the US-based Women's Tennis Association (WTA), which has become a staunch advocate for Peng's safety, said the video did not address its concerns about Peng's wellbeing.

WTA chairman Steve Simon last week threatened to pull its tournaments out of China if Peng's safety and freedom were not assured.

According to the WTA, the senior official at the centre of the sexual assault allegation is former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli. Neither Zhang nor the Chinese government have commented on the allegation.

The UN Human Rights office on Friday asked for information about Peng and her wellbeing and called for an investigation into her allegations of sexual assault.

The US and British governments made similar statements on Friday and Saturday, respectively. On Sunday, France's foreign minister called for Chinese authorities to let Peng speak publicly.

Rights groups have also called for a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, to be held in February 2022, over China's human rights record.

READ ALSO: Peng Shuai appears in Beijing, WTA not reassured

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.