Chinese government says concern over safety of tennis player Peng Shuai ‘maliciously hyped’

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Nov. 23 (UPI) — China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday waded into the debate over Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, saying that advocates and organizations have been “maliciously hyping” and politicizing concerning her well-being.

Concern for Peng’s safety gradually increased over a period of almost three weeks after she accused, on social media, former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. Peng wasn’t seen or heard from around the time she made the post on Nov. 2 to when she reappeared last weekend for a video call with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.

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Although she was seen during the video call, some advocates have continued to express concern about Peng’s safety. Some are considering a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing over the matter.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said during a press briefing Tuesday that Peng has also attended some public events recently.

“I hope certain people will cease malicious hyping, let alone politicization,” Zhao said, according to The Guardian.

Tennis stars like Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams have joined an online campaign with the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai in an effort to support the star, who is a former No. 1 doubles player.

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Mentions of Peng have been mostly censored in China since the controversy began with her accusation involving Zhang.

The IOC reported after her call with Bach that Peng was safe, but some have questioned whether the top Olympic body helped stage the call to dissuade calls for a boycott of the Winter Games, which begin in February.

China says the issue is an ideological conflict between China and the West.