A staff member from the British Consulate General in Hong Kong has been detained in mainland China for over 10 days after crossing the border for a business trip, according to his girlfriend.

Simon Cheng Man-kit, a trade and investment officer at the Scottish Development International section of the consulate, attended a business event in Shenzhen on August 8 via the Lo Wu control point, but never returned to the city despite a prior plan to come back the same day on the Express Rail Link, his girlfriend said.

Simon Cheng Man-kit
Simon Cheng Man-kit. Photo: Facebook.

A spokesperson for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Tuesday voiced concern over reports that Cheng has been detained.

“We are extremely concerned by reports that a member of our team has been detained returning to Hong Kong from Shenzhen. We are providing support to his family and seeking further information from authorities in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong,” it read.

Cheng is a Hong Kong permanent resident who had studied at National Taiwan University in Taiwan and London School of Economics in the UK before returning to the city. It is unclear if Cheng holds a diplomatic passport and what documents he used to enter China.

The incident was first reported by news outlet HK01 on Tuesday.

‘Pray for me’

At 10:37pm on the day he left Hong Kong, Cheng told his Taiwanese girlfriend that he was on a high-speed rail train to return to Hong Kong, “ready to pass through the boarder [sic],” according to a screenshot. “Pray for me,” Cheng told his girlfriend in a message.

boundary line West Kowloon terminus
The boundary line between the Hong Kong port area and the mainland port area of the West Kowloon terminus. File Photo: Citizen News.

The Express Rail Link has an arrangement in which border checks are not conducted in the mainland but at a joint checkpoint at the underground levels of the West Kowloon Terminus. Cheng could have been detained at that checkpoint, which is considered Chinese territory.

Cheng did not return to work on August 9. According to his girlfriend, the British Consulate-General told Cheng’s family members to report the case to the police after they met with Nicola Barrett, a consul at the consulate.

There were no arrests made at the mainland Chinese police station of the West Kowloon Terminus on August 8 and 9, an officer of the station told HK01 over the phone.

Express Rail Link West Kowloon terminus
West Kowloon terminus of the Express Rail Link. Photo: HKFP.

Cheng’s girlfriend said a unit at the Immigration Department, which provides assistance to Hong Kong residents outside of the city, told her on August 10 that Cheng was under administrative detention in mainland China, but the reason for his detention and his location were unknown.

Administrative detention in the mainland can last as long as 15 days.

HKFP was unable to reach Cheng via telephone on Tuesday morning.

Police said that Cheng’s disappearance has been listed as a “missing person” case and the Regional Missing Person Unit of Kowloon West was following up. The unit was in close contact with mainland authorities, police added.

HK British Consulate
HK British Consulate. Photo: Wikicommons.

A spokesperson of the Immigration Department released a statement on Tuesday afternoon saying it was following up with the incident through the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Guangdong after receiving a request for assistance from Cheng’s family member.

“[The department has] provided the family with proper advice and practical assistance,” it added.

At a regular Chinese Foreign Ministry press briefing on Tuesday, spokesperson Geng Shuang said that he was unaware of the situation.

HKFP has reached out to the police, the Immigration Department, the British Consulate General, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for comment.

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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.