• AFP-Jiji, Reuters


China kept silent Monday over growing concern for tennis star Peng Shuai, who has not been heard from since accusing a powerful politician of sexual assault — the first time the #MeToo movement has struck at the top echelons of the ruling Communist Party.

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) called Sunday for Peng's claims to be "investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship," and current and former players, including men's world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, have expressed fear for the safety of the former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion.

Asked to respond to the mounting questions, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: "I have not heard of the issue you raised."

He added that "this is not a diplomatic question" and made no further comment on the fate of the former world No. 1 doubles player.

Details of Peng's reported accusations, made earlier this month that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her, remain scrubbed from China's Internet. Searches for their names on key portals come back empty.

Searches for her account on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform also returned no results, although the account was still accessible via a direct web link.

China's national tennis association did not respond to requests for comment.

In its statement, the WTA's chairman Steve Simon said the events concerning Peng were "of deep concern" and called for her claims to be "treated with the utmost seriousness."

"Our absolute and unwavering priority is the health and safety of our players. We are speaking out so justice can be done," the statement said.

Separately, Simon told the New York Times: "We've received confirmation from several sources, including the Chinese Tennis Association, that she is safe and not under any physical threat."

The ATP Tour, which governs men's tennis, also expressed support for Peng and backed the WTA's calls for an investigation.

"There is nothing more important to us than the safety of our tennis community," ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said in a statement on Monday.

"We have been deeply concerned by the uncertainty surrounding the immediate safety and whereabouts of WTA player Peng Shuai… We stand in full support of WTA's call for a full, fair and transparent investigation into allegations of sexual assault against Peng Shuai."

Speaking after his ATP Tour Finals match against Casper Ruud on Monday, Djokovic described the situation as "terrible."

"Honestly it's shocking that she's missing," said the Serb.

"More so that it's someone that I've seen on the tour in previous years quite a few times.

"There's not much more to say than to hope that she's ok and it's just terrible … I can imagine how her family feels, you know, that she's missing."

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