Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

UK 'extremely concerned’ after British consulate worker held in China

Simon Cheng was reported missing after failing to return to Hong Kong from a business trip in China on August 8

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor (R) speaks during a media briefing before the weekly executive council meeting in Hong Kong, China. EPA/JEROME FAVRE
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor (R) speaks during a media briefing before the weekly executive council meeting in Hong Kong, China. EPA/JEROME FAVRE

The UK foreign office has said it is “extremely concerned” by reports that a Hong Kong consulate worker has been detained during a recent trip to mainland China.

Simon Cheng, 28, was reported missing after failing to return from a business trip on August 8 in the city of Shenzhen.

The last text he sent was to his girlfriend as he passed through immigration control, it read: “Passing through. Pray for me.”

On Tuesday, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office said it was providing the man’s family with support and seeking information from authorities in Hong Kong and Guangdong province.

“We are extremely concerned by reports that a member of our team has been detained returning to Hong Kong from Shenzhen,” it said.

The incident comes at a sensitive time for the UK and China, which has accused the British government of meddling in its former colony by defending the rights of demonstrators.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab spoke with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam a day after his disappearance to discuss “concerns about the situation in the city and the protests there,” the foreign office said in a statement. It made no mention of Mr Cheng’s case.

Concerns about the safety of foreign diplomatic staff operating in China have increased since Michael Kovrig, a global security analyst on leave from the Canadian foreign service, was detained in December and later accused of espionage.

The move came amid a spat between Beijing and Ottawa over the arrest of a Chinese executive accused of sanctions violation in the US.

China has stepped up border controls near Hong Kong as authorities seek to prevent the financial hub’s unrest from spreading.

Travellers into China are being asked to unlock their smartphones so Chinese agents can examine their chats and social media.

It is not known if Mr Cheng successfully crossed the mainland border and made it to the high-speed railway station staffed by mainland agents on the Hong Kong side.

Immigration authorities have told his partner he is being held in administrative detention – people can be detained for up to 15 days.

Updated: August 20, 2019 01:07 PM

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