CHENGDU, China — The Chinese government distanced itself Wednesday from the case of an 18-year-old tennis player who disappeared without a trace in New York City, the latest intrigue as authorities seek to trace her whereabouts and handle an issue that once again sparked questions about immigration policy in the United States.
Chang Tzu-ying, who is ranked 10th in the world and whose recent dealings raised questions about her visa status, disappeared March 30 after a championship match, the best she has done in a year and a half of competition. When she did not appear at the regional tournament she entered into Thursday, sponsors and fans began expressing concern, and she was formally declared missing March 31. She was supposed to fly back to Shanghai on Tuesday but left without comment.
Chinese officials, who are considering whether to offer government help in the case, have provided scant information on the teenager, which she was born in China and joined her family in Beijing in 2010. On Wednesday, however, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had confirmed that Chang was in the United States.
“The Chinese consulate in New York is doing all the necessary checks,” the ministry said in a statement. “It is the duty of the American side to conduct an investigation. We hope that the American side handles the issue seriously and appropriately, and protects the interest of the Chinese citizen.”
That being said, neither embassy would discuss why Chang was in the United States, or answer any further questions, indicating that Chinese officials are hesitant to provide details about the young woman.
In New York, officials from the Chinese consulate there declined to comment on whether they had raised the missing-person status with the U.S. government. They referred all questions about Chang to the New York Police Department, which did not immediately return requests for comment. It was not clear when or if the department would conduct an investigation into Chang’s disappearance.
At a news conference in Chengdu, the capital of southwest China’s Sichuan province, Chang’s father, Zhou Zibei, told reporters his daughter had attended a match March 28 at Flushing Meadows and left. He also acknowledged that he had applied for permission to go to New York to be with her but was denied the visa, said Liu Liqin, the director of the Fengjie Sports Club, the Chang family’s sports company.
Liu said that he believed there had been a visa issue after Chang made appearances in New York last month, but that he was not aware of why she had left.
“It’s normal to have visa problems,” Liu said in an interview, citing the type of visa it took to enter the United States. “I don’t know.”
In New York, Mateo Acta, a staff sergeant at the FBI’s office in New York, said he could not comment on individual investigations but said the bureau generally processes missing-person cases with the local authorities.
“Our database is not large enough to have a nationwide list of missing persons,” Acta said. “So we get the leads when the families come to us and request help.”
Some American groups that advocate for migrants and for refugee families expressed hope that Chang would be reunited with her family soon.
“This is a tremendous loss for the tennis world,” said Matthew Sandler, co-founder of the Japan America Society of Greater Washington, D.C., who has spent more than two decades as a professional tennis player, and has a cousin in China.
“The privacy of our government, I would imagine, will be compromised by this case,” Sandler said, “but they will want to get to the bottom of it quickly.”