China hits back at ‘malicious hyping’ of Peng Shuai situation as Naomi Osaka’s Weibo account gets censored

Peng Shuai

China has criticised “certain people” of “politicising” the controversy surrounding tennis player Peng Shuai, insisting the situation is “not a diplomatic matter”.

Shortly after accusing the country’s former vice-premier, Zhang Gaoli, of sexually assaulting her on social media, Peng’s post was deleted and she disappeared from the public eye for three weeks.

Following international outcry – with the WTA leading from the front – the former doubles world No 1 re-emerged over the weekend as state media released a series of photos and videos.

She also had a video call with International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, although only a still image was made public.

WTA insist IOC’s call with Peng Shuai not enough as it demands probe into sexual assault allegations

The WTA has threatened to pull all tournaments from China as they have called for “a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault” while the ATP has backed their stance.

However, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian insisted it was “not a diplomatic matter” during a press briefing and dismissed the criticism the country has received.

“I think certain people should stop deliberately and maliciously hyping up, let alone politicise this issue,” he said.

He added: “I believe you have all seen that she recently attended some public events and had a video call with IOC president Thomas Bach.”

Meanwhile, four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka’s social media account with Weibo was censored in China following her criticism on Twitter.

On the back of Peng’s disappearance from public life, Osaka wrote: “Hey everyone, not sure if you’ve been following the news but I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player that has gone missing shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused. Censorship is never OK at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and OK. I’m in shock of [sic] the current situation and I’m sending love and light her way. #whereispengshuai”

The former world No 1’s Weibo account is now no longer visible in China.