China confirmed on Wednesday it is holding a British consulate staff member from Hong Kong under administrative detention after his family reported him missing for 11 days.
Simon Cheng, investment director for the Scottish International Development Agency under the aegis of the British Consulate General in Hong Kong, was reported missing after he failed to turn up to work since Aug. 9 following a trip across the border to the neighboring city of Shenzhen, in mainland China.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing in Beijing that Cheng had been "placed in administrative detention for 15 days as a punishment" by Shenzhen police for breaking a public security law.
"Let me clarify, this employee is a Hong Kong citizen, he's not a U.K. citizen, which is also saying he's a Chinese person," Geng said.
He said Cheng, who is a resident of Hong Kong, had violated regulations on "Punishments in Public Order and Security Administration," but gave no further details.
Geng said the case was "not a diplomatic issue," but Cheng's detention comes after weeks of tension between the U.K. and China, with Beijing repeatedly warning London not to "interfere" in its internal affairs by commenting on more than two months of anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong.
Geng repeated such warnings at Wednesday's briefing.
"Recently the U.K. has made many erroneous remarks about Hong Kong," Geng said. "We once again urge the British side to stop gesticulating and fanning flames on the Hong Kong issue."
Cheng's family raised the alarm after Cheng failed to return from a one-day business meeting in Shenzhen on Aug. 8, in spite of having boarded the high-speed train to West Kowloon station in Hong Kong.
His messages to his girlfriend ended just as he was about to pass through immigration at a controversial joint checkpoint that is legally controlled by mainland China.
Speculation was rife on social media that Cheng may have gone missing while in the controversial dual checkpoint area of the West Kowloon high-speed rail terminus, which was designated part of the People's Republic of China in a controversial move amid fears of cross-border arrests and detentions within Hong Kong's borders.
The issue of whether or not mainland Chinese police can directly arrest and charge residents of Hong Kong also lies at the heart of the anti-extradition protests that have rocked the city since early June.
Chinese authorities have stepped up border inspections at the crossing between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and have reportedly scanned the phones and other devices of travelers for photos of the anti-extradition protests.
State-run Chinese news media have been waging a stridently nationalistic and anti-Hong Kong propaganda war in recent weeks, in an apparent bid to counteract the Hong Kong protesters' accounts of police violence, abuse of power and suspected use of Chinese agents provocateurs.
Relations between Hong Kong and mainland China, which have flared into tension in the past, have become especially tense as the authorities have described the recent weeks of anti-extradition protests as "showing early signs of terrorism."
The nationalistic approach to Hong Kong has extended far beyond China's borders, with pro-China protesters showing up to shout abuse and, in some cases, commit physical assault, at overseas demonstrations in support of the territory.
Call for support
Cheng's friends staged a protest outside the British Consulate in Hong Kong on Wednesday afternoon to pressure the U.K. government to "save Simon," whose detention encapsulates the problem Hong Kong's protesters have with plans to enable extradition to mainland China.
The U.K.'s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has said it is "extremely concerned" about Cheng.
The Hong Kong police have said they weren't notified about his detention by mainland Chinese authorities under a mutual notification arrangement set up for such cases.
Cheng's 'disappearance' comes amid a war of words between the ruling Chinese Communist Party and the U.K., which Beijing has accused of interfering in Hong Kong by supporting the ongoing anti-extradition protests, and of treating the city as if it were still a British colony.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service and RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.