The United States government said on Friday that it was disturbed by reports of the disappearances of five people associated with a Hong Kong bookstore.

Lee Bo, 65, a shareholder of Causeway Bay Books, went missing from Hong Kong on December 30 last year. In a letter allegedly written by him to his wife, he said he had traveled to China voluntarily and that “everything is fine”.

Four other members of staff from the store, which specialises in political gossip titles banned in the mainland, are also missing. It sparked concerns of “white terror” regarding whether Lee was abducted in Hong Kong and sent to mainland China through secret channels.

“We are disturbed by reports of the disappearances,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a regular news briefing. “We share the concern of the people of Hong Kong regarding these disappearances.”

banned books
File photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.

“We’re following the issue closely. We noted the January 4th statement by Hong Kong’s chief executive expressing concerns about the potential implications of this case, and we share those concerns.”

On Friday, the European Union issued a statement saying that “the continuing lack of information about the well-being and whereabouts of five Hong Kong residents… is extremely worrying.”

As two of the missing are EU citizens, including Swedish national Gui Minhai and UK national Lee Bo, the EU said: “The relevant authorities in Thailand, China and Hong Kong should investigate and clarify the circumstances of the disappearances in conformity with the rule of law.”

banned books
File photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.

But Foreign Minister Wang Yi had said that Lee “is first and foremost a Chinese citizen”. Lee also holds a “home return permit”, a document for Chinese nationals in Hong Kong to enter China.

On Wednesday, British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond said Beijing would be guilty of an “egregious breach” of Hong Kong’s autonomy if speculation that Chinese security forces had abducted a British bookseller was confirmed.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that “Hong Kong’s affairs are entirely China’s domestic politics, any foreign country has no right to interfere.”

See also: HKFP Feature – The curious tale of five missing publishers in Hong Kong.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.