TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Officials in Taiwan demanded Friday that China disclose information about the disappearance of a Taiwanese man who reportedly distributed photos of Chinese troops massing equipment just outside protest-racked Hong Kong.
Friends and family have been unable to reach Lee Meng-chu, a volunteer activity organizer in a small township in southern Taiwan, for 10 days, the Taiwanese government’s Mainland Affairs Council said after receiving pleas for help from Lee’s family members.
Communist Party-ruled China often detains people over political matters and may hold them in an unknown location for several months if they are suspected of threatening national security.
“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. “The main thing now is we need to understand his movements and whereabouts, then eventually how to get him safely back to Taiwan.”
Lee entered Hong Kong on Aug. 18, Taiwan’s government-run Central News Agency reported. He apparently transmitted photos to his brother and to the township chief showing the paramilitary troops massing equipment on the Hong Kong border with mainland China, the agency said.
The drills conducted in Shenzhen city fueled speculation that China might use its People’s Armed Police to crush repeated mass pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.
Taiwan and China have had frosty relations since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s. China sees self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory, but most Taiwanese have told government surveys they prefer autonomy.
Further straining relations, Taiwanese officials have repeatedly spoken out in favor of anti-Beijing protests in Hong Kong.
China is supposed to inform Taiwan when it detains Taiwanese citizens under an agreement reached in 2009. Taiwanese officials said Friday they had received no information on Lee’s case.
The township of Fangliao — a fishing community in southern Taiwan — selected Lee in May as a volunteer consultant to help promote its international affairs because he had studied in the United States and worked in a foreign company in Taiwan, said Mayor Archer Chen.
Lee, about 40 years old, often travels to China, Chen said.
On the morning of Aug. 20, Lee sent Chen photos of the troops along the Hong Kong border, the mayor said. Later that day, Chen said he tried to call Lee but could not get through.
“At first I figured he was out of power or had lost the phone, but after we couldn’t reach him for several days I realized things weren’t so innocent,” Chen said.
In another recent case, Taiwanese rights activist Lee Ming-che disappeared in March 2017 on a trip to China and surfaced at a court hearing in the southern Chinese city of Changsha in September that year. The activist who had discussed democracy with mainland Chinese on social media was sentenced to five years in prison for his activities.