Taiwanese Man Who Disappeared in China Is Under Investigation, Beijing Says

Taiwanese Man Who Disappeared in China Is Under Investigation, Beijing Says


HONG KONG — A Taiwanese man who disappeared during a visit to China is being investigated for suspected activities that “endanger national security,” the Chinese authorities said on Wednesday, the latest twist in a mystery that may dovetail with months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

A spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of China’s State Council revealed that the man, Lee Meng-chu, was under investigation. Newspapers in Hong Kong and Taiwan reported that he went missing about three weeks ago.

He is thought to have entered the mainland city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, on Aug. 19. A Taiwanese newspaper soon after published a photograph, which it attributed to Mr. Lee, of armored vehicles near the border.

It was unclear from Beijing’s terse announcement exactly where Mr. Lee was or whether he had been taken into custody.

Mr. Lee’s disappearance is sensitive because, as pro-democracy demonstrations have intensified this summer in Hong Kong, there has been rising speculation about whether China would send its army into the semiautonomous territory to quell the protests.

In recent weeks, Chinese state-run media have published photos and videos of troop movements in Shenzhen, but actually sending troops into the city would be unprecedented, and politically risky for China’s president, Xi Jinping.

Hong Kong is a former British colony that was returned to Chinese control in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” arrangement that guaranteed it a high degree of autonomy for 50 years, and gave it special business and trading privileges with the United States and other countries.

Mr. Lee works for a volunteer group, according to reports by Hong Kong and Taiwanese newspapers.

In response to a reporter’s question, the Taiwanese government’s Mainland Affairs Council said in August that contact with Mr. Lee was lost after he entered the mainland. Taiwanese officials have demanded information from Beijing on his whereabouts.

There were no signs that he had been detained while in Hong Kong, which has an independent legal system. But Hong Kong’s police force and immigration department declined to comment on Wednesday.

The Shenzhen police previously told Mr. Lee’s family that they had no record of him entering the city, even though Mr. Lee’s friends say he had shared a meal with them there, the South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday.

In late August, The Liberty Times, a Taiwanese newspaper, published a photo of Chinese military vehicles that it said had been taken by Mr. Lee on the mainland. It said that he was thought to have been in Shenzhen on Aug. 19 and 20.

The newspaper also reported that Mr. Lee had been expected to fly to Indonesia from Hong Kong in late August, but failed to arrive at his destination.

Chiu Chui-cheng, a deputy minister in Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, said in August that Mr. Lee had been heard from while in Hong Kong but he disappeared after entering the mainland.

Many people in Taiwan, a self-governing island with a lively democracy, view the Chinese government with deep suspicion and see the demonstrators in Hong Kong as kindred spirits. Beijing has long claimed Taiwan as part of its territory but has never controlled it.

China has a long history of arresting or holding foreigners for mysterious reasons, often as part of a larger diplomatic strategy. And in recent years, a few people in Hong Kong — including a succession of local booksellers and one of mainland China’s most politically connected financiers — have turned up in custody on the mainland after being suddenly abducted.

In August, an employee of the British Consulate in Hong Kong was detained for weeks after disappearing during a business trip to Shenzhen. The Chinese government said the man, Simon Cheng, a Hong Kong resident, had been held under administrative detention, without specifying what, if anything, he was accused of having done wrong.

Mr. Cheng’s disappearance prompted fears that China had detained him as a warning either to Hong Kong protesters or to Britain, the city’s former colonial occupier, which has called on Beijing to honor the 1997 agreement.

Also on Wednesday, one of the protesters, Joshua Wong, said at a Berlin news conference that Hong Kong was “the new Berlin in a new Cold War,” asking Germany to support democracy in the city and to stop selling weapons and equipment to its police. He met this week with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

A spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, criticized Germany on Tuesday for letting Mr. Wong visit the country and engage in what she called “anti-China separatist activities.”



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