An employee at the UK’s consulate in Hong Kong has been detained by mainland Chinese authorities on his way back to the city, his girlfriend has said.
Simon Cheng, 28, was travelling back from a business trip in Shenzhen province to his native Hong Kong on 8 August when he suddenly stopped messaging, his girlfriend, Li, told the Guardian.
“Ready to pass through the border … pray for me,” he had messaged just before he went silent, Li said.
More than 10 days later, Li and Cheng’s family have not been able to get in touch with him. Li said Hong Kong immigration authorities told her Cheng had been placed under “administrative detention” in mainland China in an unknown location and for unknown reasons.
The detention of Cheng, who works in the British consulate as a trade and investment officer for Scottish Development International, comes amid more than two months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that have threatened Beijing’s authority over the city.
“We are extremely concerned by reports that a member of our team has been detained returning to Hong Kong from Shenzhen,” a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said. “We are providing support to his family and seeking further information from authorities in Guangdong province and Hong Kong.”
Cheng’s detention was first reported by the Hong Kong news site HK01. According to Li, he regularly travels to mainland China for meetings and had gone there most recently for work.
Immigration officials have increased checks at the border between mainland China and Hong Kong, detaining people and checking their phones and other devices.
Beijing has taken an increasingly hardline tone against the protests, which it sees as a direct challenge to its rule.
It has also repeatedly warned Britain – the former colonial ruler of Hong Kong – against “interference”. China has appeared irked by Britain’s public rebukes of the Hong Kong authorities’ handling of the demonstrations.
According to Li, Cheng had not participated in the protests or expressed his position on the movement in any public forums. “As far as I know, he did not attend any of the protests, even the 1 million march. I am just worried about him,” she said.
Li, who met Cheng while he was studying in Taiwan – where she is from – has been calling and writing to British, Chinese, and Hong Kong officials. According to Li, Cheng’s career had progressed from a part-time job at a fast food restaurant to his current position at the consulate. “His life was just beginning,” she said.
“He grew up to be a very caring, diligent and hardworking person. Now, he is missing and detained for no reason. This is deeply distressing for his family and friends.”
Li said she and Cheng had discussed marriage, and possibly moving back to Taiwan, but Cheng wanted to remain in Hong Kong. “He said he loves Hong Kong and wanted to sacrifice all he has for his motherland.”