Peng Shuai: ‘Deafening silence’ of UK Government gives China permission to act with impunity, says Lisa Nandy
The UK Government has been criticised for its “deafening silence” on the apparent disappearance of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai by shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy.
Peng has not been seen or heard from, barring an email of dubious veracity published by Chinese state media, since 2 November, when she posted allegations that a former senior member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had coerced her into sex.
The post was quickly removed by the authorities, who are now censoring mentions of tennis on Chinese social media website Weibo and scrambling signals of foreign news channels when they report on Peng’s apparent disappearance.
On Friday, the UN added its considerable weight to calls for the Chinese government to prove Peng is safe and free.
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“The silence from the UK Government in the face of Peng Shuai’s disappearance is deafening,” Nandy told i.
“Promises of a tougher stance on China from the new foreign secretary are already proving to be more empty words – no recognition of the genocide taking place in Xinjiang, no commitment to a political and diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics and now no condemnation of the disappearance of Peng Shuai.
“The Government’s failure to speak out sends a clear message to the Chinese authorities that they can continue to act with impunity.”
On Thursday, Labour’s Stephen Kinnock submitted a written question to Liz Truss “asking her what representations she has made to the Chinese government about this disturbing case”, but so far the only comment provided so far by the Foreign Office came from a spokesperson who said that “anyone should be allowed to speak out without fear of repercussions”.
The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) says it has offered “assistance [to the WTA] in their efforts to establish the safety and wellbeing of Peng Shuai”.
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“We are also keen to support any further measures that the tours can introduce to improve the safety of all players,” the LTA added.
“The immediate priority is to establish that Peng Shuai is safe and well and, furthermore, that she is able to speak freely and not subject to any form of censorship.”
The ITF said: “Player safety is always our top priority and we support a full and transparent investigation into this matter.”
State-owned broadcast network CGTN posted a series of allegedly recent pictures of Peng Shuai on Friday afternoon, but they have yet to be independently verified, and no one from outside China has been in contact with her since 2 November.
WTA threaten to pull out of China
The WTA has taken a more hardline approach, initially calling for a full, fair and transparent investigation, but then, after receiving an email purportedly from Peng recanting her allegations, WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon released a second statement in which he said the message “only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts”.
He added: “I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her. 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 communication, to no avail.”
The Chinese tennis player has been missing for more than two weeks since alleging that a former Communist Party official had coerced her into sex