- Business trips outside Hong Kong by Canada’s staff in the city are suspended
- Britain is seeking contact with its consulate employee Cheng, who disappeared while returning from a business trip to Shenzhen
The Canadian consulate in Hong Kong has suspended all work travel including to mainland China for local staff, days after British consulate employee Simon Cheng Man-kit was detained at the border while returning from neighbouring Shenzhen on a business trip.
"The consulate general of Canada in Hong Kong employs Canadian diplomats posted to Hong Kong as well as locally engaged staff. At present, locally engaged staff will not undertake official business travel outside of Hong Kong," a spokesperson from the Canadian consulate confirmed to the South China Morning Post.
Cheng, a Hong Kong national who works as a trade and investment officer for the British consulate, was last heard from by his girlfriend on August 8 while going through border control at the West Kowloon high-speed railway terminus in Hong Kong. His family filed a missing-person report with Hong Kong police the next day.
It was not until Wednesday, 12 days after that report, that China's foreign ministry confirmed that Cheng had been placed under administration detention for 15 days in Shenzhen.
Global Times, a nationalist tabloid published under the auspices of Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, reported on Thursday that Cheng had been detained for soliciting prostitutes, which is illegal on the mainland.
The British foreign office said after the Global Times report that it "urgently" sought information on Cheng.
An earlier Global Times article had attacked Cheng for political posts reportedly found on his social media accounts.
The article suggested that Cheng did not support the principle of "one country, two systems" " under which Hong Kong became part of China but retained certain freedoms " and was sympathetic to the idea of independence for the city as well as for Taiwan. It included an image of a person being slapped in the face, captioned: "I am hitting you on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party."
On Facebook, a page called "Release Simon Cheng" responded to Global Times' report about soliciting by saying: "Visiting a prostitute? Everyone can continue to treat this as a joke. Ha."
The detention of Cheng has become a rallying call for Hongkongers, with posters of Cheng visible at a protest in Yuen Long on Wednesday night.
Hong Kong police said on Wednesday that they had received the missing-person report but had not received any notification from mainland authorities.
The notification mechanism between Hong Kong and the mainland regarding such cases does not cover administrative detention, which is an extralegal measure by which people can be held for up to 15 days without trial for a range of offences.
Canada's decision to halt staff trips follows Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's speech to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday, in which he called for Canada to stand up to China and urged a de-escalation of tensions over anti-government protests in Hong Kong, which have continued since early June.
China's foreign ministry responded to Trudeau's remarks with a strong objection on Thursday, saying that Hong Kong matters were China's internal affairs and that Canada's statements on Hong Kong were incorrect and amounted to meddling.
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