▶ Watch Video: Cruz says there’s reason to be “deeply, deeply skeptical” about tennis star Peng Shuai’s reappearance

Washington — Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said Sunday that those concerned about the well-being of tennis player Peng Shuai have reason to be “deeply, deeply skeptical” about images released by Chinese state-run media that appear to show her in Beijing, marking the first time she’s been seen in more than two weeks. 

In an interview with “Face the Nation,” Cruz said “we don’t know for sure” what is going on with Peng, 35, who disappeared after she accused a former Chinese Communist Party vice-premier of sexual assault in a now-deleted post on the Chinese social media site Weibo on November 2. 

Peng had not been seen in public since then, but then appeared in photos released Sunday by the organizer of a youth tennis tournament in Beijing, as well as in a video shared Saturday by Chinese state media that appeared to show her in a restaurant. 

“There are reasons to be deeply, deeply skeptical,” Cruz told “Face the Nation” when asked about the photos, adding that with these latest images, the Chinese government is “trying to pretend everything is OK.”

Ted Cruz on “Face the Nation” November 21, 2021.

CBS News

Peng’s disappearance this month sparked global outcry from fellow tennis players and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). The WTA has called for “independent and verifiable proof” that Peng is safe, and its CEO, Steve Simon, said the organization is willing to pull its business out of China if it fails to account for her whereabouts and investigate her sexual assault allegation. 

Simon said that despite the footage that appears to show Peng in a restaurant, it “remains unclear if she is free” and said the video by itself is “insufficient.”

The White House and United Nations have also called for proof of Peng’s whereabouts and well-being, as well as an investigation into her sexual assault allegations.

Cruz lauded the WTA for pressuring China to verify Peng’s whereabouts, calling the organization “extraordinary.”

“The Chinese communist government is flabbergasted because they’re not used to seeing sports leagues or big corporate interests stand up to them,” he said. “I really commend the Women’s Tennis Association for putting their players first.”

Peng’s disappearance has reignited scrutiny of holding the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, and President Biden told reporters Thursday he is “considering” a diplomatic boycott of the games because of China’s handling of human rights issues.

Cruz said he supports moving the Winter Olympics from Beijing — the International Olympic Committee has not indicated it would so even following Peng’s disappearance — but does not favor a full boycott, which he said would punish athletes forced to sit out the Winter Games. 

“I also think it’s important we do two things at the Olympics in China,” he said. “Number one, that we actually show the courage the Women’s Tennis Association is showing to call out the murder, the genocide, the torture, the lies, the complicity in COVID-19 of the Chinese communist government to speak the truth. And then number two, I really hope our young men and women that they go over there and kick their commie a***s. We need to win in the Olympics.”

In addition to addressing the developing situation with Peng, Cruz defended his actions surrounding the January 6 assault on the Capitol and refuted speaking with former President Trump the day of the attack, as was reported in the book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

“I have no idea what that book says, but I did not have any conversations with them on January 6,” Cruz said.

The senator from Texas said there should have been a full audit of the 2020 election to address concerns about the integrity of the election, but condemned the violence on January 6.

“I think the violence that happened on that day was horrific,” he said. “I think any acts of violence, regardless of your political orientation, if you’re right wing, left wing or you have no ideology at all, if you commit an act of violence, if you assault a police officer, if you’re violent against anyone, you should be prosecuted and go to jail. And that’s what the law is.”