Officials in Taiwan have called on Beijing to disclose the whereabouts of Taiwanese man who "disappeared" in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen after reportedly handing out photos of troops gathering near the border with Hong Kong after weeks of anti-extradition protests.
Lee Meng-chu, a volunteer activity organizer from Pingtung county in southern Taiwan, has been incommunicado in Shenzhen for 10 days, a spokesman for Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said.
"He was able to be contacted while in Hong Kong and then unreachable once he entered mainland China," council spokesman Chiu Chui-cheng told reporters on Friday.
"The main thing now is we need to understand his movements and whereabouts, then eventually how to get him safely back to Taiwan."
Chiu said Lee could have run afoul of new, stricter checks on anyone crossing the border from Hong Kong into mainland China, including scans of people's mobile phones.
"They have stepped up checks for material and photos [of the anti-extradition protests], which has raised the risk to Taiwan nationals' personal safety, although by how much isn't certain," he said.
According to Taiwan's government-run Central News Agency, Lee arrived in Hong Kong on Aug. 18, and had forwarded photos to people back home showing troops of the People's Armed Police gathering near the border with Hong Kong.
Troops massing at border
Chen Ya-lin, a local official in Lee's hometown, said Lee's last communication was to the effect that the troops were massing at the border.
"The last contact with him was at noon on Aug. 20. We were discussing his coming to Indonesia on the 27th," said Chen from Indonesia. "I called him at noon on the 20th, and he said he was from Hong Kong."
"He told me then about his plan to go from Hong Kong to Shenzhen."
Chen said the purpose of Lee's visit to Hong Kong and Shenzhen was business, and that he had only attended the protests as a bystander.
Chen didn't immediately raise the alarm, believing that Lee's phone battery had likely died.
He informed the MAC on Aug. 25, but Taiwan officials said they had heard nothing.
Under an agreement signed in 2009, authorities in China have an official channel through which to inform Taiwan if they have detained one of their nationals.
Support for Hong Kong from Taiwan
Lee's disappearance comes after Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen offered vocal support for the anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong, warning that the erosion of the city's traditional rights and freedoms was an object lesson in what happens under the Chinese Communist Party's favored 'one country, two systems' formula under which it wants to annex Taiwan.
Tsai, who is seeking reelection in January 2020, has repeatedly condemned police violence against unarmed demonstrators in Hong Kong, and called on the city's government to pursue greater democracy.
She has also pledged "humanitarian assistance" to any residents of Hong Kong who fear arrest or unfair prosecution over their involvement in a recent string of mass protests against extradition to mainland China.
Taiwan has never formed part of the People's Republic of China nor come under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, and a number of Hong Kong anti-extradition activists are believed to have fled there to evade arrest on "rioting" charges back home.
Taiwanese democracy activist Lee Ming-cheh is currently serving a prison sentence in China for subversion after working with Chinese pro-democracy groups online from Taiwan.
Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.