BEIJING: A Chinese national working at Britain's Hong Kong consulate has been detained in China's border city of Shenzhen for violating the law, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Wednesday (Aug 21), likely worsening already strained ties between Beijing and London.
Britain has said it is "extremely concerned" by reports that the staff member at the consulate in its former colony had been detained.
Simon Cheng did not return to work on Aug 9 after visiting the neighbouring mainland city of Shenzhen the previous day, Hong Kong news website HK01 reported, citing an interview with his girlfriend and family.
Cheng's family confirmed his disappearance in a Facebook post on Tuesday night, saying he travelled from Hong Kong to Shenzhen on the morning of Aug 8 for a business trip.
Speaking at a daily news briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Cheng had been detained for 15 days by Shenzhen police for violating public security management regulations, though he gave no details.
The Public Security Administration Punishments Law is a law that has broad scope aimed at "maintaining public order in society" and "safeguarding public security", as well as making sure police and security forces act within the law.
DETENTION OF SIMON CHENG AN INTERNAL MATTER: CHINA
Geng said the employee was from Hong Kong and therefore the issue was an internal matter.
"He is not a British citizen. He is a Chinese person, so this is entirely a matter of China’s internal affairs," Geng said.
"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," he added.
He also called on Britain to stop interfering in China's internal affairs.
"Britain has made a series of wrong statements on Hong Kong. We again urge them to stop gesticulating and to stop fanning the flames," Geng said.
Shenzhen police declined immediate comment.
Hong Kong police said Cheng left for China "around Aug 9 with no further movement record we could find".
"Our liaison team had actually enquired with the mainland authority about the whereabouts of this gentlemen," Senior Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung told reporters at a news conference.
"However, the results are still pending."
The ongoing protests have raised fears of a Chinese crackdown in some form.
The unrest was initially triggered by a controversial law that would allow extradition to the mainland, but has since broadened into a call for wider democratic reforms.
Beijing has repeatedly warned Britain - the former colonial ruler of Hong Kong - against any "interference" in the protests, which erupted 11 weeks ago and have seen millions of people hit the streets.
Britain, the United States and other countries have urged China to respect the "one country, two systems" formula under which Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Beijing faced criticism in the past for detaining foreign nationals amid ongoing diplomatic spats.
Ottawa has urged Beijing to release two Canadian citizens detained in December amid escalating diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
Friends of the missing employee staged a protest outside the British Consulate in Hong Kong on Wednesday afternoon to pressure the UK government to "save Simon".
"Hong Kong people are still fighting to oppose the extradition bill, yet something like this happened without such a bill," organiser Max Chung told AFP.
"If the Beijing government doesn't explain to the public why this happened, then it is playing with fire. This is a warning to Hongkongers and to whoever wants to come to Hong Kong."
Chung told the rally that "to our best understanding" his detained friend had not been involved with the ongoing protests that have engulfed the financial hub.
"Simon is a very good guy, and smart guy ... I don't think he would do anything stupid," he added.
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained amid a diplomatic crisis sparked by the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer for Chinese tech giant Huawei, in Vancouver on a US extradition bid.
Former diplomat Kovrig and consultant Spavor were picked up in China on suspicion of espionage days after her arrest, in a move widely seen as retaliation.