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UK consulate staff member detained after visiting Shenzhen

August 21, 2019

China confirmed that it detained a Hong Kong British Consulate employee who went missing on a business trip to mainland China. Britain's Foreign Office said it is "extremely concerned" about the case.

Simon Cheng, a staff member at Britain's consulate in Hong Kong
Image: Reuters/Facebook/Free Simon Cheg

A missing employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong was detained during a trip to the mainland, China's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

The consulate staffer, identified as Simon Cheng, was given 15 days of administrative detention for breaking a public security law, ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said, without offering further details.

He added that since Cheng is a Hong Kong resident, the matter is entirely an internal Chinese affair. It was unclear whether the missing staff member possessed a diplomatic passport.

"As for Britain's comments, we've made stern representations to Britain for the series of comments and actions they've made on Hong Kong," Geng said.

"We request they stop making these irresponsible statements, stop meddling in Hong Kong's affairs and stop interfering in China's internal affairs," he added.

UK 'extremely concerned'

Hong Kong media said the consulate employee had attended a business event in Shenzhen, in China's southeastern Guangdong province, on August 8, but never returned — despite plans to travel back to Hong Kong on the same day via the high-speed Express Rail Link launched last year.

In a statement, the British Foreign Office said it was "extremely concerned" about reports that its employee had been "detained while returning to Hong Kong from Shenzhen."

Shenzhen, a boom city of 12 million, abuts Hong Kong, a semiautonomous financial hub handed back to China conditionally by the UK in 1997 and gripped in recent months by an unprecedented political crisis.

Read more: Hong Kong protesters march in peace after unrest

Is China trying to substitute Hong Kong?

Rally 'peaceful'

On Sunday, a rally in Hong Kong drew 1.7 million people demanding democratic reform as its organizers sought to reclaim the moral high ground after previous outbreaks of violence.

Absent Sunday were arrests and police baton and tear gas charges — prompting embattled city leader Carrie Lam to describe the rally as "largely peaceful."

A Hong Kong protest agenda for the rest of this week, issued via social media, listed actions ranging from blocking metro stations on Wednesday, to forming a human chain and blockading transport routes leading to the airport.

Campaign to 'discredit'

On Monday, the American tech giants Twitter and Facebook accused the Chinese government of backing a social media campaign intent on discrediting Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement and sowing discord.

Both firms said they had closed accounts originating from China after what Twitter called "intensive investigations."

Twitter and Facebook are banned in China, part of its government's so-called "Great Firewall" of censorship.

rs, ipj/ng (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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