China in its most direct response said on Tuesday that “certain people” should stop the “malicious hyping and politicisation” of the issue of tennis star Peng Shuai, whose wellbeing has been taken up by foreign governments and organisations.

“I think some people should stop deliberately and maliciously hyping up, let alone politicise this issue,” said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in response to a question on whether the case affected China’s international image.

Peng, the 35-year-old former doubles world number one, disappeared from public view after she posted a message on social media alleging that China’s former vice premier Zhang Gaoli one of China’s most powerful politicians had sexually assaulted her and they later had an on-off consensual relationship. Evidence of her claims have also been deleted from China’s highly censored internet.

She reappeared for the first time over the weekend at a tennis tournament in Beijing after she made the allegations against Zhang on November 2. She also held a video call with International Olympic Committee  president Thomas Bach on Sunday.

foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijians said during a regular press briefing, “I think some people should stop deliberately and maliciously hyping up, let alone politicise this issue,”.Zhao was asked whether the case affected China’s international image.

he said ,”This is not a diplomatic matter. I believe everyone will have seen she has recently attended some public activities and also held a video call with IOC President Bach,”.

But human rights groups and sporting authorities have continued   to raise concerns about Peng’s welfare and whether authorities will act on her allegations.

Reuters reported that Amnesty International’s China researcher Alkan Akad told the agency that the video call did little to ease fears over Peng’s wellbeing and that the IOC was entering “dangerous waters”.

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