Skip to main content
Publish date:

White House Calls For Proof of Peng Shuai's Safety, China Says Its 'Not Aware' of Issue

Sep 2, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Peng Shuai (CHN) celebrates after recording match point against Belinda Bencic (SUI) on day nine of the 2014 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

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

The White House has joined the call for the Chinese government to provide "independent, verifiable proof" of missing tennis star Peng Shuai's whereabouts and her safety, press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.

"We join in the calls for PRC authorities to provide independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe," Psaki told reporters. "We know the PRC has zero tolerance for criticism and a record of silencing those that speak out and we continue to condemn those practices."

This comes a day after 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.

Earlier on Friday, per the Associated Press, China’s Foreign Ministry told reporters Shuai's situation was “not a diplomatic question and I’m not aware of the situation.”

A spokesperson 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,” per the AP.

“And I think we would say that that should be the case into all allegations of sexual assault," the spokesperson said. "It is really important to ensure accountability, to ensure justice for the victims."

SI Recommends

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."

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."

"For a person to come forth with the type of allegations and the detail into those allegations that she set forth in her Nov. 2 post, those are significant," Simon said Thursday during an interview with CNN. "For us to see an email that basically denied that happened and said it didn't and that all is great, I'm just struggling to agree to that and don't believe that's the truth at all."

Simon told The New York Times earlier this week that WTA received confirmation from the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA) and other sources that the tennis star is “safe and not under any physical threat." However, he added that no one at WTA had been able to speak directly with Shuai yet.

The chairman told CNN that the WTA has tried many different ways to contact her, but "to date, we still have not been able to get a response." He added that he immediately responded to the email from Wednesday, but as of the Thursday evening interview, he had not received a response. 

In the same interview, Simon said is "willing to pull our business" out of China and lose millions if Shuai's allegations are not fully investigated and she is not spoken with directly. The organization is willing to "deal with all the complications that come with it," Simon said, "because this is certainly, this is bigger than the business."

The WTA has 10 events scheduled in China for 2022, including the Finals. The country is scheduled to host that specific event through 2028.

From 2012 to '17, Zhang Gaoli served on the party's Politburo Standing Committee, the "top ruling body" of the country, per The 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."