Sweden on Tuesday called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to release bookseller Gui Minhai, one of its nationals, after he was detained a second time during a train trip to Beijing in the company of Swedish diplomats.
"We expect our citizen to be released immediately and be given the opportunity to meet Swedish diplomatic and medical personnel," Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom said in a statement after Gui's daughter told Radio Sweden he had been "snatched" by plainclothes police officers while traveling to Beijing from his parental home in the eastern city of Ningbo.
Wallstrom had earlier summoned China's ambassador to protest Gui's detention, which the bookseller's Angela Gui said took place while her father was on a train bound for the Chinese capital to seek medical treatment for neurological symptoms believed to be the first signs of ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease.
But China's foreign ministry said on Tuesday it had no information on Gui's whereabouts,
"The Chinese and Swedish sides have very open communication channels," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
"If there are any problems, from one or both sides, they can be raised, both sides can conduct timely and effective dialogue, this is no problem at all," she added.
"But as for the Swedish Foreign Ministry's statement I have already said, as to the specific issue, I do not have any information at hand at this moment and you have to ask the relevant department in China.
"I believe the relevant department will handle the issue in accordance with the law," Hua said.
Hua appeared to suggest that the Swedish diplomats had broken some kind of law or convention on diplomatic relations, without being specific.
"Any foreigner in China, including officials of foreign diplomatic missions, must not contravene international or Chinese laws," she said. "This is basic common sense and a basic principle."
Chinese Foreign Ministry later removed the questions and replies about Gui Minhai from its transcript of the Tuesday news briefing.
Angela Gui declined to comment when contacted by RFA on Tuesday.
"I'm sorry, but I really can't give you any response right now," she said.
Released in October but still not free
Hong Kong-based Gui "disappeared" under murky circumstances from his holiday home in Pattaya, Thailand on October 2015, only to reappear in China "confessing" on video to a decade-old alleged drunk-driving offense.
One of five Hong Kong booksellers detained by Chinese police for selling "banned books" to customers across the internal border in mainland China, Gui was "released" by the Chinese authorities last October, but his Angela Gui said he was still not free.
Instead, Gui had been placed under various forms of control and surveillance in his birthplace, Ningbo, and had been reunited with his wife Jennifer, who is a German national, the Independent Chinese PEN writers' group said at the time.
In February 2016, the U.K. accused Beijing of breaching the handover treaty by "involuntarily removing" Gui's colleague British national Lee Bo across the internal immigration border to mainland China.
There is no record of Lee leaving Hong Kong, suggesting that he was spirited across the internal immigration border by Chinese police, while colleagues Lui Por, Lam Wing kei and Cheung Chi-ping were also detained in late 2015 after they crossed the border into China.
Lui, Cheung and Lam were later released after making televised "confessions" with a set of instructions from China's state security police: to reappear in Hong Kong, refute reports of their disappearance, and claim to be voluntarily helping police with their inquiries.
Lam, who refused to to stick to that script and has since traveled to the democratic island of Taiwan, said Lui Por and Cheung Chi-ping are now back in mainland China and could also be prevented from leaving.
"[But] the one who has it worst is Lee Bo, I believe," Lam said. He did not elaborate on why he thought Lee Bo faced the worst situation.
Independent Chinese PEN co-founder Bei Ling called on Sweden to clarify the situation.
"This matter has clearly become a major international incident," Bei said. "We urge the Swedish foreign ministry to make public all of the details as soon as possible."
"At the same time, we also call on China to tell the international community why it wanted to arrest Gui Minhai on his way to Beijing," Bei said.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.