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WTA threatens to pull out of China over disappearance of tennis ace Peng Shuai

WTA threatens to pull out of China over disappearance of tennis ace Peng Shuai
Peng Shuai of China celebrates after a victory during the Taiwan Open tennis tournament in Taipei, Taiwan, on February 4, 2017. File Photo by Ritchie B. Tongo/EPA-EFE

Nov. 19 (UPI) -- The Women's Tennis Association says it's planning to cut ties with China if it doesn't respond adequately to the disappearance of Chinese star Peng Shuai after she made accusations of sexual assault against Beijing's former vice premier.

Peng, a former world's No. 1 doubles player, has not been seen in public since she made the accusations against former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli on Chinese social media platform Weibo on Nov. 2.

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"I have repeatedly tried to reach her via numerous forms of communication, to no avail," Steve Simon, executive director of the Women's Tennis Association, said in a statement Thursday.

"Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source. Her allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship."

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In the detailed post that was deleted a short time after she posted it, Peng had complained that Zhang forced her into sex three years ago. She'd said that she and Zhang had previously had a consensual relationship.

The WTA statement came after Chinese state media posted an email purportedly from Peng to Simon, which said she is fine.

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Simon said the email, which was accompanied by a screenshot of text, concerns him.

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"The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts," he said.

"I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her."

Peng's disappearance has baffled officials and other tennis stars.

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"I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai," Serena Williams tweeted. "I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible.

"This must be investigated and we must not stay silent."

Peng and Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan were ranked as the world's top women's double's team in 2014 after they won two Grand Slam titles. Peng is considered one of China's most accomplished tennis stars.

The U.S.-based WTA said it's willing to pull nearly a dozen sanctioned tennis events in China in 2022 over Peng's disappearance. The tournaments are worth tens of millions of dollars.

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