Peng Shuai: US 'deeply concerned' over Chinese tennis star

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Media caption,

WTA chairman 'worried about Peng's safety'

The US says it is "deeply concerned" about Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who has not been heard from since making sexual assault allegations against a top Communist Party official.

The White House urged China to "provide independent, verifiable proof" of Ms Peng's whereabouts and safety.

The 35-year-old doubles Grand Slam winner accused China's ex-vice-premier of sexual assault two weeks ago.

The Women's Tennis Association has threatened to pull events out of China.

WTA chairman Steve Simon told the BBC there will be no competitions in China next year without proof that Ms Peng was safe.

"We cannot stand by compromises. This is a right and wrong issue," he said.

The WTA has been told Ms Peng is safe, and in Beijing, by the Chinese Tennis Association, although Mr Simon said there has been no confirmation that is true.

In a separate development on Friday, three photos of Ms Peng were posted on a WeChat account under her name with the caption "Happy Weekend".

However, the authenticity of the post on the Chinese instant messaging service was questioned by BBC China media analyst Kerry Allen.

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Earlier this week, Chinese state media released an email attributed to Ms Peng, but Mr Simon cast doubt about its authenticity.

The former number one-ranked doubles player has not been seen in public since posting an allegation about former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli on Chinese social media site Weibo on 2 November.

She alleged she was "forced" into sexual relations with Mr Zhang - who served as the country's vice-premier between 2013 and 2018.

The post was taken down minutes later, along with other recent posts from the account, which has more than 500,000 followers.

More and more leading voices from the world of tennis have spoken out about Ms Peng since.

Media caption,

Ros Atkins on...the missing Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai

Former women's world number one and 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams said news of Ms Peng's disappearance had left her "devastated and shocked".

"I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent," she tweeted.

World number one male tennis player Novak Djokovic said he was shocked, while Naomi Osaka also voiced concerns about her whereabouts.

Tennis players and social media users are posting under the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.

Ms Peng is a prominent figure in Chinese tennis. She has won two women's doubles Grand Slams at Wimbledon in 2013 and the 2014 French Open, both alongside Taiwan's Hsieh Su-wei.

Her allegation is the highest profile incident in China's fledgling #MeToo movement.