Editor’s note: This story contains descriptions of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at https://www.rainn.org
Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.) penned a letter to President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, calling for them to "suspend any high-level dialogues with China until China respond satisfactorily to our inquiries about Peng Shuai’s safety."
The recently retired tennis star accused a former high-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party of sexual assault.
This is reportedly the first public accusation of this nature against a prominent Chinese government official, and since Shuai’s Nov. 2 post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, the WTA veteran has reportedly not been heard from directly.
"Since your administration has been engaging in intense high-level dialogues with Chinese officials, I would like to urge you to raise to your Chinese counterparts in such interactions the issue of Peng Shuai’s safety and whereabouts and demand Chinese authorities to lift censorship and re-post Peng Shuai’s social media message that has been taken down," the representative wrote.
During Thursday's press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked whether "the White House have concerns, have any comment, any position on that situation, given she’s such a high-profile individual who spent a lot of time playing tennis, frankly, in the United States?" She responded, "No. We—we have, of course, seen the reports. We, unfortunately, just don’t have any additional information on it or additional comment."
A Chinese state-affiliated media outlet released an email on Wednesday purportedly from Shuai that was sent to the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chair and chief executive Steve Simon, but it only raised his concern "as to her safety and whereabouts."
"I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her," Simon said in a statement. "Peng Shuai displayed incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government. The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe. I have repeatedly tried to reach her via numerous forms of communications, to no avail."
The email said, in part, "Regarding the recent news released on the official website of the WTA, the content has not been confirmed or verified by myself and it was released without my consent. The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true."
From 2012 to '17, Zhang Gaoli served on the party's Politburo Standing Committee, the "top ruling body" of the country, per The New York Times. Shuai detailed in her post that the former high-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party allegedly "forced" her to have sex with him.
“Why did you have to come back to me, took me to your home to force me to have sex with you?” she wrote, per CNN.
The post, which also described an on-and-off consensual relationship with Gaoli, was removed within minutes, according to The Times, and searches of Shuai's name and "tennis" reportedly "appeared to be blocked."
Rep. Banks ended his letter with saying, "I also urge you to warn the Chinese authorities that China’s silencing and abusing Peng Shuai, if not handled properly, will have a negative impact on China hosting the Winter Olympics of 2022, and will only exacerbate the movement to boycott the games."
President Biden said earlier on Thursday that the United States is considering a diplomatic boycott over China's human rights abuses. Athletes would still be allowed to compete in February's Winter Games, but American dignitaries would not attend.