ccording to a Chinese state media tabloid, the high-profile detention of an employee at the United Kingdom’s consulate in Hong Kong has absolutely nothing to do with the ongoing demonstrations rocking the former British colony.
Instead, the Global Times reported on Thursday that it was told by Shenzhen police that 28-year-old Simon Cheng Man-kit was actually detained for “soliciting prostitutes.”
A trade and investment officer at the consulate, Cheng was last heard from on August 8 when he went to Shenzhen on business. Before crossing the border back into his hometown, he messaged his girlfriend, asking her to pray for him.
After his girlfriend went public about his disappearance, the Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed on Wednesday that Cheng had been placed under administrative detention in Shenzhen for breaking unspecified public security laws, warning that: “The employee is a resident of Hong Kong SAR, but not a UK citizen. Therefore, this is totally an internal affair.”
Under administrative detention, Cheng can be held without charge for 15 days, a deadline which expires on Friday. The penalty for visiting prostitutes in China is a maximum 15 days detention and a 5,000 yuan ($705) fine.
In its report, the Global Times accused Western media outlets of “politicizing the case” by inferring links to the Hong Kong protest movement and highlighting how Cheng’s family was unaware of his whereabouts. Police told the tabloid that they did not reach out to the family at Cheng’s own request.
Following the release of the report, Hu Xijin, Global Times editor-in-chief, jumped on Twitter and unironically condemned “UK diplomats and media” for “ruining” Cheng.
According to police, Simon Cheng, an employee of the British consulate in HK, was detained in Shenzhen for visiting prostitute. Police didn't contact his family requested by Cheng. Police are willing to help reduce damage to his reputation, UK diplomats and media ruined him.
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) August 22, 2019
Most are more than a little skeptical about the alleged basis of Cheng’s detention.
Rather than being arrested at a seedy hotel, Cheng is believed to have been detained after taking a high-speed train from Shenzhen and arriving at the West Kowloon station. While the station is located in Hong Kong, a small part of it operates under mainland law where passengers go through border control.
Some have wondered how Cheng managed to meet with a prostitute on the train, joking that they didn’t realize the bullet train had started offering such “special services.”