A British Consulate official has been detained in mainland China after urging his girlfriend to “pray for me” as he attempted to cross the border back into Hong Kong.
Simon Cheng Man-kit, a trade and investment officer at the Hong Kong consulate’s Scottish Development International section, had travelled on August 8 to a business event in Shenzhen and was due to return the same day.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said the official had gone missing while returning from the city of 12.5 million that links Hong Kong to Southeast China.
“We are extremely concerned by reports that a member of our team has been detained while returning to Hong Kong from Shenzhen. We are providing support to their family and seeking further information from authorities in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong,” said an FCO spokesperson on Tuesday.
The British embassy in Beijing confirmed to The Telegraph that the official had been detained in mainland China.
His disappearance 10 days ago comes at a time of heightened tension between China and Western nations, including the UK, for their support of pro-democracy demonstrations which have now entered their eleventh week.
According to Hong Kong media outlet HK01, Mr Cheng had crossed into the city via the heavily trafficked Lo Wu border crossing and planned to return the same day using the Express Rail link.
Ms Lee said that immigration authorities had told her on August 10 that Mr Cheng told her on August 10 that he was under administrative detention in mainland China, but the reason and location of his detention were unknown.
The Telegraph was unable to reach the immigration department on Tuesday to request information on Mr Cheng’s current status. Administrative detention in the mainland can last for up to 15 days.
His worried girlfriend, described as a financial entrepreneur, told HK01 he had “just started to give back to the community. He grew up in public housing and he used his abilities to get to where he is today.”
In a statement, she urged the Chinese authorities to release her partner as soon as possible and to ensure his safety: “Simon’s disappearance confirms a lot of the fears held by the global investment community about arbitrary detention in mainland China.”
Screenshots of earlier messages between the couple revealed that Mr Cheng planned to delete call records and other apps from his phone before passing into Shenzhen.
Fears are rising that authorities are checking phones of passengers to the mainland for any links to Hong Kong’s ongoing protests.
The site published screenshots that evening from a telephone conversation between Mr Cheng, a Hong Kong permanent resident and his Taiwanese girlfriend, identified only as Ms Lee, in which she asks: “Where are you? Just let me know that you are safe.”
Mr Cheng responded: “Passing through. Pray for me,” but did not answer two subsequent calls from his girlfriend. He has not been heard from since.
The official, believed to be in his late twenties, grew up in Hong Kong and studied in Taiwan and the UK before returning to the city to take up a position at the consulate. It is unclear if he entered China on a diplomatic passport.
According to his girlfriend, the British Consulate-General told Mr Cheng’s family to report the case to the police.
An officer at the mainland Chinese police station in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Terminus told HK01 that there were no arrests made on August 8 or 9.