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China's Shuai Peng of China at the 2020 Australian Open in Melbourne. Photo: Fred Lee/Getty Images

The Women's Tennis Association on Sunday called on Chinese officials to investigate player Peng Shuai's allegations that China's former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli sexually assaulted her.

Why it matters: WTA CEO Steve Simon took the extraordinary step of issuing a statement calling for a "full, fair and transparent investigation" and an "end of censorship" against the former world no. 1 doubles player, who made the allegations in a since-deleted online post.

  • The WTA risks putting its lucrative business relationship with China's government in jeopardy, with 11 tournaments and a long-term tour finals agreement, per the New York Times.
  • Peng, 35, hasn't been seen in public nor made any further statements since her Nov. 2 Weibo social media post, CNN notes. Neither officials from the Chinese government nor the China Tennis Association have commented on the allegations.

The big picture: Peng alleged on her Weibo account that Zhang "coerced" her to have sex with him and that they had an intermittent consensual relationship for about 10 years, according to screenshots translated by CNN.

  • Peng became in 2014 the first Chinese tennis player to be given a top doubles ranking after winning doubles matches at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014, Reuters notes.
  • Zhang, 75, served on the ruling Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, China's most powerful body, from 2012 to 2017 and served as vice premier from 2013 until his retirement in 2018.

What they're saying: "Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored," Simon said in his statement.

  • "Her accusation about the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving a sexual assault must be treated with the utmost seriousness."
  • Simon also said that he understands that Peng is in Beijing, but added "I can’t confirm that because I haven't spoken directly with her," per the NYT.

Go deeper

Dec 2, 2021 - World

U.S. and EU signal "converging" views on China

President Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell - Pool/Getty Images

The U.S. and the European Union are adopting "increasingly convergent" views on the threat posed by the Chinese government, according to senior Biden administration officials, deepening a trend that could tilt the scales in an era of great power competition.

Why it matters: European leaders were initially wary of President Biden's campaign to rally a coalition of U.S. allies to challenge China, hoping to duck a confrontation between the bloc's two largest trading partners. But the winds in Europe seem to be shifting, in part due to Beijing's growing belligerence.

Axios AM Deep Dive: Pandemic eating

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A food revolution began pre-pandemic and COVID has only accelerated that. See how America's food industry is transforming, from farm to your table.

Abrams’ campaign manager rules out 2024 run if she wins governor's race

Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

In her first major interview since the official announcement, Stacey Abrams' campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo quashed speculation that the Georgia Democrat would interrupt a theoretical gubernatorial term to run for president in 2024.

Why it matters: Abrams' name has come up repeatedly as a top 2024 Democratic contender given President Joe Biden's age and Vice President Kamala Harris's low favorability rating.