BEIJING (AP) — China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday said it wasn't aware of the controversy surrounding tennis professional Peng Shuai, who disappeared after accusing a former top official of sexually abusing 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 it broke as a major global story earlier this week.
The 35-year-old Peng is a former top ranked player in women’s doubles who 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.
Peng wrote in a lengthy social media post on Nov. 2 that she had been forced to have sex despite repeated refusals three years ago with Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier and 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 quickly spread across China’s internet.
Steve Simon, the chairman and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, questioned the authenticity of what Chinese state media said was an email intended for him in which Peng said she was safe and that the assault allegation was untrue. It was posted Thursday by CGTN, the international arm of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.