The former doubles world No 1 has not been seen or heard from publicly since she said on Chinese social media in early November that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli coerced her into sex three years ago, and that they had had an on-off relationship.

Neither Zhang or the Chinese government have commented on Peng's allegation and discussion of the topic has been blocked on China ’ s heavily censored internet.

The Global Times is published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, and Hu has an active presence on Twitter, which is blocked in China.

She wrote :' I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai.

I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible.

'this must be investigated and we must not stay silent," american williams wrote on social media.

sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time. ” three-time grand slam winner andy murray added his voice to the # whereispengshuai campaign on twitter on friday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian (pictured, on November 16) told reporters that the controversy surrounding the disappearance of tennis professional Peng Shuai was 'not a diplomatic question and I'm not aware of the situation'

taking to twitter, murray then weighed in on the uncomfortable situation himself, noting : 'female tennis player peng shuai whereabouts currently unknown after making sexual abuse allegations against chinese government official.

'This speech gives us a reminder and some hope that things can change in the future # WhereIsPengShuai' Meanwhile, the Women's Tennis Association ( WTA ) said it was prepared to pull its tournaments out of China if they were not satisfied with the response to her sexual assault allegation.

concern among the global tennis community and beyond has grown over peng's safety and whereabouts since her allegation, with the wta calling for an investigation and the world ’ s top players tweeting # whereispengshuai.

WTA chief executive Steve Simon told various US media outlets on Thursday the tour would consider pulling tournaments worth tens of millions of dollars out of China.

Fears grew for her safety Wednesday as Chinese state media published what they claimed was an email written by her saying 'I've just been resting at home and everything is fine'

'We 're definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it,' he told CNN in an interview.

'Because this is certainly, this is bigger than the business.

women need to be respected and not censored," he said.

Incredibly, China's Foreign Ministry has said it was not aware of the controversy surrounding Shuai.

Steve Simon, the WTA chairman and CEO, said he will consider pulling tournaments out of China if the matter is not resolved soon

Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters that the matter was 'not a diplomatic question and I'm not aware of the situation '.

The ministry has consistently disavowed knowledge of the issue since it broke as a major global story earlier this week.

'As a person who is familiar with Chinese system, I don't believe Peng Shuai has received retaliation and repression speculated by foreign media for the thing people talked about,' said Hu Xijin, the editor of the Global Times, on Twitter.

As of Friday, searches for the WTA's official account on Weibo yielded no results although its account remained available.

Peng alleged that senior politician Zhang Gaoli, 40 years her senior, sexually assaulted her in a bedroom at his house, while his wife was present

The issue has emerged as China prepares to host the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February amid calls from global rights groups and others for a boycott over its human rights record.

the international olympic committee ( ioc ) said it would not comment any further at this stage. '

A spokesperson for the body said : 'Experience shows that quiet diplomacy offers the best opportunity to find a solution for questions of such nature.

U.S. Representative Jim Banks of Indiana said he has written to President Joe Biden about Peng's disappearance, urging him to raise her case with China and to warn Beijing it could have a negative impact on the Winter Olympics.

Social media users were quick to point out oddities with the 'email', including that it is addressed to 'everyone' despite allegedly being a private message and that a typing cursor appears to be flashing in the middle of the message - suggesting it is op

The threat to pull out of China followed the release of what Chinese state media claimed was an email from Peng to Simon saying everything was fine.

By Friday, the hashtag # WhereIsPengShuai had racked up over 32 million mentions on Facebook's Instagram, which is also blocked in China, as well as Twitter, according to hashtag analysis website BrandMentions.

Peng's name on Weibo also continues to yield no search results.

Still, a handful of Chinese users took to the official Weibo accounts of tennis stars Williams and Novak Djokovic, who has also expressed shock at the situation, to thank them for releasing statements.

Peng made the allegation in a lengthy social media post on Weibo which was quickly deleted before her account was heavily censored

The Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai has not been heard from publicly since she accused a former vice-premier of sexual assault.

She also said she and Zhang had previously had an on-off consensual relationship.

Peng also said in the post that she could provide no evidence to back her allegations, but was determined to speak out.

simon said the wta hasn't been able to speak to peng and he was very concerned for her.

Serena Williams also took to her own social media and received well over 24,000 retweets

China has been the focus of aggressive WTA expansion over the last decade and hosted nine tournaments in the 2019 season- the last before the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic- with a total $ 30.4m prize money on offer.

'the news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true.

And on Wednesday, fellow tennis star Serena Williams called for an investigation into Peng's disappearance to be launched.

'thank you again for caring about me.

Andy Murray has now joined the search for the former world No 1 doubles player Peng

His wife, Grace, was granted political asylum in France last year after saying she feared she and her two children would be the targets of kidnapping attempts.

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