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Nations Around The World Trying To Reach Agreement To Reduce Plastic Waste 

According to an official from the United Nations, 170 countries are currently negotiating a deal for a global treaty that would cut plastic waste, while environmentalists are weary of the plastic industry’s ability to change for the health of our planet.

Aid Groups In Afghanistan Struggle With Recovery Efforts After Massive Earthquake Kills More Than 2,000

International aid groups in Afghanistan are struggling to allocate resources and recovery efforts after the nation was hit with a massive earthquake that has left more than 2,000 people dead and many more injured.

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Conflict In Sudan Leads To Mass Departure Of Foreigners While Locals Remain Trapped 

A conflict in Sudan between two rival general forces has led to a mass exodus of foreigners from the country while locals are struggling to escape and find themselves in the crossfire. 

Countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Japan, Germany, Canada, and France have airlifted and evacuated embassy staff, diplomates, and other residents over the weekend. The US and Canada also announced that their governments would be temporarily suspending their operations within the embassies in Khartoum. 

According to John Kirby, a coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council in the White House, there’s an estimated 16,000 Americans remaining in Sudan; most of which are dual citizens in Sudan as well. 

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“These are people that grew up in Sudan, work in Sudan, families are in Sudan and they want to stay in Sudan, so it’s a number that is difficult to plan specifically,” Kirby said to ABC News.

Kirby also explained that there are several dozen Americans making their way to Sudan’s main seaport through a United Nations convoy, while the US is monitoring them through intelligence surveillance to ensure they’re safe. 

“We still have military forces prepositioned in the region ready to respond if need be. But right now, it’s not very safe to try to run some larger evacuation either out of the nearby air base or even just through rotary lift like we did the other night because the fighting is so intense,” he said. 

“The safest thing for Americans to do — those who have decided to stay in Sudan despite the warnings to leave — is to shelter in place and to not move around too much in the city of Khartoum.”

Many Sudanese citizens are currently attempting to flee and risking their lives trying to get out of the crossfire of this conflict. 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the “organization is working with aid groups on the ground and is reconfiguring our presence in Sudan to enable us to continue supporting the Sudanese people. In the meantime, [we have] authorized the temporary relocation both inside and outside Sudan of some U.N. personnel and their families.”

“I am in constant contact with the parties to the conflict and have called on them to de-escalate tensions and to return to the negotiating table,” Guterres added. 

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“Let me be clear: the United Nations is not leaving Sudan. Our commitment is to the Sudanese people, in support of their wishes for a peaceful and secure future. We stand with them at this terrible time.”

Tensions between General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the commander of the Sudanese Armed Forces, and General Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, the head of the Rapid Support Forces, a Sudanese paramilitary group, reached a head on April 15th. 

While the two generals were once allies, they are now battling for control over the North African nation which is saturated in resources. Proposed cease-fires have been consistently failing, with both sides showing no sign of backing down. 

A majority of the fighting and violence is occurring in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. More than 420 people have been killed and over 3,700 have been injured, according to reports from the World Health Organization. 

The U.S. has been in contact with the rival sides “every single day … trying to get them to put down their arms, to abide by the cease-fires that they themselves say they want and to return to some sort of civilian authority,” according to Kirby.

“We’re doing everything we can to get this fighting stopped,” he told ABC News.

 “This is a centrally located, very important, very large African country. We are concerned that other partners, other nations will be affected by this — not just in the region, but beyond — so that’s why we’re working so hard to get this violence stopped.”

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North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile Over Japan, South Korea And US Respond 

According to the Japanese Ministry of Defense, North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan early on Tuesday morning. South Korea and the US responded by conducting a joint strike package flight and precision bombing drill, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told ABC News Tuesday. 

The Japanese government initially issued a “J-Alert” to citizens through its emergency warning system, telling residents to remain indoors in sturdy buildings or underground for safety. 

The government didn’t try to attempt to shoot the missile from North Korea down after determining it didn’t pose a threat, according to a spokesperson from Japan’s government. 

Residents in both Hokkaido and Aomori, and surrounding northern areas, were advised to report any debris sightings to police or fire officials immediately. 

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The last time North Korea flew a missile over Japan was in 2017, but this launch marks the seventh time that the nation has witnessed a missile from North Korea. 

Since January of this year, North Korea has shot 21 ballistic missiles and two cruise missiles, which is considered a record-breaking number of launches in a single year, according to reports from ABC. Tuesday’s launch was North Korea’s fifth missile test in a week. 

Japanese government chief spokesperson Hirokazu Matsuno spoke with the media at a press conference where he warned citizens not to touch or pick up any debris. 

“We ask that people return to life as usual, calmly,” Matsuno emphasized. 

“No damage has been reported so far and a search is underway for debris. Officials are gathering information and will work with South Korea and the U.S.,” another spokesperson said. 

“North Korea’s actions threaten Japan and the international community. Missile launches like this go against the U.N. resolutions. Japan will launch a strong protest against North Korea in light of this. All new information will be shared promptly.”

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“The United States strongly condemns the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) dangerous and reckless decision to launch a long-range ballistic missile over Japan,” The White House said in a statement Tuesday. 

Jake Sullivan, US National Security Adviser, spoke with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea about the launch as well, according to Adrienne Watson, a White House National Security Council spokesperson. 

“In both calls, the National Security Advisors consulted on appropriate and robust joint and international responses, and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan reinforced the United States’ ironclad commitments to the defense of Japan and the ROK [South Korea],” Watson explained. 

In response, Jaechun Kim, a professor in South Korea, stated that the US, Korea, and Japan need to “mobilize cooperation from like-minded countries in non-UN sanctions to thwart North Korea’s provocations.” 

“A unified front must be established that imposes sanctions on North Korea, as they did on Russia. This is the only way to penalize North Korea for its bad behavior.” 

“North Korea just does what it needs to do these days. So, with or without China’s support, it is quite likely for the North to conduct the 7th nuke test. It will be interesting to see whether Xi Jinping will throw his weight behind Kim Jong Un,” Kim said.

Ukraine Conflict

Ukraine Updates: Mariupol Residents Evacuating, Resolution Could Mean US Intervention 

This Monday the residents of Mariupol, Ukraine began a mass evacuation with Ukrainian authorities assisting thousands of more residents escape the city that once held almost 500,000 citizens. 

Mayoral adviser Petro Andryushchenko told the media that buses were heading toward Zaporizhzhia, which is 140 miles west of Mariupol. Individuals who own cars are being encouraged to evacuate themselves as quickly as possible. 

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“We hope that thousands of our Mariupol residents … will get to Zaporizhzhia tonight or tomorrow morning,” Andryushchenko said Monday.

The Ukraine military said “civilians are already arriving in Zaporizhzhia [a city of about 750,000 people] and are being provided hot meals, physical and psychological examinations and medicines.”

“All evacuees will receive a calm refuge. Finally, these people will be able to feel safe.”

According to some estimates from authorities, about 100,000 people might still be trapped in the port city of Mariupol, with little access to food, water, and utilities. Several hundred of them are thought to be at a sprawling steel plant that is the last major holdout in the Russian-occupied city. 

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More than 100 citizens were evacuated from the Azovstal plant on Sunday before Russian shelling forced a temporary halt to the evacuation efforts. The Russian military claims that 69 individuals chose to evacuate while 57 others asked to stay under Russian control. 

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told media stations that civilians who remain in the plant were likely afraid that the buses they boarded would be taken to Russia, but he has UN assurances that citizens would be going to Ukraine-controlled areas. 

Representative Adam Kinzinger is planning on introducing a joint resolution that would authorize President Joe Biden to use US military forces in Ukraine if Russia uses chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. 

“The legislation of the use of force would be used to protect the national security interests of the United States with respect to Ukraine and assist in defending and restoring the territorial integrity of Ukraine.” 

“The authority would terminate when the territorial integrity of Ukraine has been restored,” according to the resolution.

“Putin must be stopped. Accordingly, the commander in chief of the world’s greatest military should have the authority and means to take the necessary actions to do so,” Kinzinger said.

Russia Requesting Military And Economic Aid From China, According To US Officials

According to US officials, Russia has asked China for military and economic assistance, including drones, as a part of their unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The official’s declined to state what exactly China’s response was to the request, but it is known that they did respond.

The news of the request was brought up to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan during a conversation with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi. Sullivan explained to the media afterwards that providing Russia with support from China would be a “concern.”  

“We also are watching closely to see the extent to which China actually does provide any form of support, material support or economic support, to Russia. It is a concern of ours. And we have communicated to Beijing that we will not stand by and allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses from the economic sanctions,” Sullivan said.

Russia continued its attack to western Ukraine this weekend, firing off missiles near the city of Lviv, and hitting a large military base close to the Polish border. The blasts reportedly killed dozens of people. 

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China claims that it was not asked by Russia for military aid or any other type of assistance. Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in the US, said in a statement, “I’ve never heard of that. The Ukraine situation is indeed disconcerting, China has and will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.

“The high priority now is to prevent the tense situation from escalating or even getting out of control. … China calls for exercising utmost restraint and preventing a massive humanitarian crisis.”

Beijing is currently trying to strike a neutral tone regarding the international conflict. Chinese domestic media coverage has, however, promoted Russian disinformation campaigns and described the war as a “special military operation. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki and other US officials have been critical of Beijing’s response overall. 

“Beijing has seemingly endorsed false Russian claims that the US is developing chemical weapons in Ukraine.”

“Our assessment right now is that China is abiding by the requirements that have been put in place, but we would continue to encourage any country to think a lot about what place they want to — what role they want to play — in history as we all look back,” Psaki said Wednesday.

Sullivan said that the “US has made it clear to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale efforts to give the Kremlin a workaround to US sanctions.”

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“We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country anywhere in the world. While the US believes China, in fact, was aware before the invasion took place that Vladimir Putin was planning something, they may not have understood the full extent of it. Because it’s very possible that Putin lied to them the same way that he lied to Europeans and others,” Sullivan explained. 

Sullivan also expressed to the media this weekend that while the “Biden administration is concerned about the possibility of escalation with respect to Putin’s nuclear posture, we have not seen anything that would require us to change our nuclear posture at this time.” 

“We are watching this extremely closely, and obviously, the escalation risk with a nuclear power is severe, and it is a different kind of conflict than other conflicts the American people have seen over the years,” he said, before explaining the administration’s decision to reject Poland’s offer to transfer fighter jets to Ukraine through the US and German air base. 

“The President listened to the assessment of his intelligence community, he listened to the advice of his military commanders, he consulted his NATO allies, and he ultimately determined that the risk-benefit analysis of flying planes from NATO bases into contested airspace over Ukraine did not make sense, was not something that he would authorize.

The US is focused on providing other anti-air systems that could help the Ukrainians make progress in terms of dealing with the threat that is coming from the air from the Russian side,” Sullivan explained.

The national security adviser also reiterated that Russia “would pay a severe price if they chose to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine. Russia’s accusations against Ukraine preparing to deploy chemical weapons is a tell, a tell that they themselves may be preparing to do so and then trying to pin the blame on someone else– that’s a classic page out of the Russian playbook.”

Ukraine Flags

Ukraine Pushing For Cease-Fire In Talks With Russia As Fighting Continues 

Russian and Ukrainian officials met on Monday as violence continues around the cities involved in the conflict. Ukraine is pushing for an immediate cease-fire and the withdrawal of Russian troops from the country ahead of the talks.

Kyiv is currently coming under attack from heavy Russian shelling. The city has been resistant to invasion with the help of military assistance from countries across the world and global sanction efforts. In addition to the violence, the Russian military has also stated that its nuclear deterrent forces have been put on high alert after Putin’s orders. 

Russian forces are now being accused of carrying out massive shelling and attack operations inside of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, after graphic videos were posted to social media showing the assault and its devastating aftermath. 

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said that 102 civilians, including seven children, were killed across Ukraine since Thursday, noting that those figures were likely an underrepresentation of the national death toll. 

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More than half a million of Ukraine’s 44 million citizens have fled the country according to the head of the U.N. refugee agency. Others are being forced to seek shelter inside metro stations and parking garages while missile strikes and gunfire take over the cities. 

A strict 39-hour curfew was in effect in Kyiv this weekend and was lifted this Monday after Russian troops invaded. Residents were able to go out and replenish essential supplies while dodging the violence. 

There’s been a concentrated effort to make Putin pay for the invasion economically as well. Sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies have greatly impacted Russia’s economy. Russia’s central bank kept the stock market closed and raised its interest rate to 20 percent from 9.5 percent in an attempt to improve the plummeting national currency. 

The United States has also announced that it would be expanding sanctions on Russia’s central bank, making it so Americans will be blocked from doing any business with it, and freeze any assets the banks may hold in the U.S.. 

“Russia’s economic reality has changed due to the heavy sanctions, but they were prepared and able to handle the damage,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated. 

Russia has also closed its airspace to airlines from the European Union and several other countries as a means of retaliation for the current ban on travel from Russian planes over its airspace. 

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stated that he doubted the talks with Russia would actually produce results, but Ukraine’s forces have slowed Russia’s advance and they still hold the capital, Kyiv, and Kharkiv. 

“The bulk of Putin’s ground forces remain more than 30 km [18 miles] to the north of Kyiv. Logistical failures and staunch Ukrainian resistance continue to frustrate the Russian advance,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in a post on Twitter Monday morning.

“With the operation moving slower than anticipated, Russia was bringing in more troops, weapons and equipment. They underestimated the resistance they were going to meet and that’s why they’re making less progress,” according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. 

“Armed with government-issued machine guns, homemade Molotov cocktails and shovels to build barricades, civilians have helped to reinforce their army’s desperate but for now effective resistance. They will soon be joined by prisoners with combat experience who will now be released,” Zelenskyy stated. 

Zelenskyy has stated that Putin is intending to remove Ukraine’s pro-Western government to potentially replace it with a Moscow-friendly regime. Putin also recently issued a directive to increase the readiness of Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces. Russia has thousands of nuclear warheads in its arsenal. 

“The move is reckless and dangerous. There’s no reason for that. NATO is no threat to Russia. Although NATO moved to increase its presence in Eastern Europe in the wake of the Ukraine invasion, it had no intention of becoming involved in the conflict itself. We have a responsibility to make sure that this doesn’t spiral out of control. That will be extremely dangerous,” Stolenberg stated.

Russia Planning On Targeting Critics In Ukraine To Be Sent To Camps Or Killed, US Reports 

The United States has officially warned the United Nations that it believes Russia has plans to kill a large number of critics, dissidents, and vulnerable populations in Ukraine after an expected invasion. These vulnerable populations are at risk of being sent to camps, or killed. 

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied the report this week claiming it was “absolute fiction.” Ambassador Bathsheba Nell Crocker, the US representative to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, recently made a statement in a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Backelet, that backs up the initial US report. 

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We have credible information that indicates Russian forces are creating lists of identified Ukrainians to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation.”

Crocker also said in the letter that the U.S. believes “Russia would likely target those who oppose Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons.” 

The document warns of potential large-scale human rights violations and abuses, especially for protestors who will likely be met with unjust force.

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“We also have credible information that Russian forces will likely use lethal measures to disperse peaceful protests or otherwise counter peaceful exercises of perceived resistance from civilian populations.”

The matter was discussed last week after Secretary of State Antony Blinken brought up the issue with the UN Security Council. Additionally, the US raised concerns over Russia’s treatment of vulnerable populations in Ukraine during a debate at the UN Human Rights Council on December 15th. 

The office of France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, made a statement this past weekend in which he discussed how he brokered an agreement in principle that would have President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet to discuss the situation in Ukraine. 

As of right now there are more than 150,000 Russian troops camped out outside Ukraine. Sources close to the White House claim that the potential meeting between presidents has not changed the reality that Russia has plans for an imminent invasion.

1987 CFC Ban Prevented Global Temperatures From Increasing By 2.5 Degrees Celsius

In 1987, the Montreal Protocol banned the use of ozone-depleting chemicals across the globe. It came into effect on September 15th 1987, and remains the only UN treaty that has been ratified by every country in the world – 198 UN states. A new study has found that, if not outlawed, these chemicals would have caused a 2.5 degrees Celsius rise of extra global warming by 2100.

The landmark environmental agreement, named: The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, regulates the production and use of approximately 100 man-made chemicals which are referred to as Ozone depleting substances (ODS). 

Those chemicals were identified as damaging to the stratospheric Ozone layer, which protects the globe and all of its organisms, due to harmful levels of ultraviolet radiation from the sun, causing global temperatures to rise. 

The globe is already facing the catastrophic consequences of global rising temperatures, and governments, companies and individuals across the world are being urged to do more to cut carbon emissions and combat the current climate crisis. 

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An international team of scientists have found, however, that the continued use of chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), banned in the Montreal Protocol, would have contributed to temperatures rising by an additional 2.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.  

The researchers estimated that the use of CFCs could raise global temperatures to approximately 3.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. CFCs could be used in refrigerators, insulation foams and aerosols. The study found that the ongoing depletion of the ozone caused by CFCs and greenhouse gasses would have drastically compromised Earth’s ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. 

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that the agreement was “perhaps the single most successful international agreement”.

The ozone layer shields the earth and its flora from damaging UV rays. Increasing a plant’s exposure to UV can damage its tissues, restricting growth and limiting its ability to photosynthesise. Photosynthesis allows vegetation to pull CO2 from the atmosphere. CO2 is a toxic planet heating greenhouse gas, and the damage to plants would have also released additional CO2 currently stored in healthy vegetation. 

Speaking to The Guardian, lead researcher in the study, Dr Paul Young, said: “a world where these chemicals increased and continued to strip away at our protective ozone layer would have been catastrophic for human health, but also for vegetation… with our research, we can see that the Montreal protocol’s successes extend beyond protecting humanity from increased UV to protecting the ability of plants and trees to absorb CO2.”

“Although we can hope that we never would have reached the catastrophic world as we simulated, it does remind us of the importance of continuing to protect the ozone layer… Entirely conceivable threats to it still exist, such as from unregulated use of CFCs.”

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Not only are CFCs damaging to the Ozone layer, they are also a greenhouse gas themselves. According to the BBC, “The scientists estimated there would be: 580 billion tonnes less carbon stored in forests, other vegetation and soils and an extra 165-215 parts per million (40-50%) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

The study doesn’t indicate that we have successfully beat climate change, just avoided further damage. There is still much more to be done when it comes to combating the climate crisis. 

The Earth has already warmed between 1.1 and 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Climate Agreement aims to limit that warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and keep it well below 2 degrees Celsius – to prevent the cataclysmic impact and irreversible damage this increase would have on the world. To do this, governments across the world are urged to drastically cut their greenhouse gas emissions among other actions. 

A report from NASA, entitled Why Global Temperatures Matter, examined the IPCC special report on climate change, and detailed the chain of events that global warming has, from the impact on wildlife, ecosystems to human survival. It explained: ‘at 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, the report projects that climate-related risks to human health, livelihoods, food security, human security, water supply and economic growth will all increase, and will increase even more at 2 degrees warming.’

Lead researcher in the study Dr Paul Young, of the Lancaster Environment Centre said to BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science program:

“What we see in our ‘world-avoided experiment’ is an additional 2.5C warming above any warming that we would get from greenhouse-gas increases… The science was listened to and acted upon – we have not seen that to the same degree with climate change.”

However, he also noted “But I would be cautious of using it as a positive example for the climate negotiations… It’s not [directly] comparable – but it’s nice to have something positive to hold on to and to see that the world can come together.”

Women’s Tennis Tournaments Suspended in China Over Peng Shuai Censorship

Steve Simon, the chairman and CEO of the women’s professional tennis tour, announced Wednesday that all Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) events occuring in China would be suspended due to the ongoing concerns over the country censoring her following Peng accusing a former government official of sexual assault.

In the statement, Simon expresses his doubts over claims that Peng is free, safe, and not being “censored or coerced, or intimidated” despite knowing her location. The chairman also explained that allowing sexual assault to go unpunished, it would be setting both the organization and equality back.

“None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable. If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer an immense setback. I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players.”

“Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022,” Simon said, who called for a complete and transparent investigation into the allegations. Simon gave no indications as to how long the suspension would last.

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The decision will have some costly ramifications. As Yahoo! Sports notes, the WTA tournaments generate tens of millions of dollars annually, while Shenzhen, China’s bid for the WTA Final included a promise to double the prize money from $7 million to $14 million. In 2019, WTA tournaments accounted for $30 million total in prize money.

The 35-year-old Peng has enjoyed quite of bit of success throughout her career, winning two singles and 23 doubles at major events such as the Wimbledon Championship, US Open, and French Open. Peng, who once ranked #1 in the world, was also a member of China’s women’s tennis teams in both the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics.

Peng brought the matter to the forefront back on Nov. 2, when she made a social media posting on Weibo — a Chinese platform — about former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli. Peng claimed he forced her to have sex three years ago, despite several refusals. She also stated they had sex several years ago. The post was taken down by Chinese authorities within 30 minutes, and Peng suddenly disappeared from the public eye.

Peng would later reappear in a video and photos posted by state-run social media on Nov. 20, at a youth tennis tournament in Beijing. Despite the country’s actions to stop the bleeding, neither the Chinese government nor Zhang, 75, have commented on the allegations. An email supposedly sent by Peng to Simon was released by Chinese media, but Simon stated he doubted the authenticity and that it only raised further questions in regards to Peng’s status and safety.

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International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach held a video conference with Peng on Nov. 21, and said that while she is “safe and well,” she would “like to have her privacy respected at this time.” The IOC also held a second video conference with Peng on Thursday, and once again stated her wellbeing and safety. No transcripts or video from either conference have been presented.

Despite the IOC’s claim, many are still suspicious given the circumstances. According to The Associated Press, the European Union said it wants China to give “verifiable proof” that Peng is safe.

Beijing is set to hold the 2022 Winter Olympics in January, which has also been a source of controversy. Numerous protests have occurred, petitioning countries, sponsors, and athletes to boycott the Olympics due to China’s treatment of Uyghur and Kazakh Muslims, in addition to its “geopolitical bullying.”