Britain 'concerned' by reports HK consulate employee detained in China

Beijing has repeatedly warned Britain, the former colonial ruler of Hong Kong, against "interference" in the city's protests

Britain's Foreign Office said Tuesday it was "extremely concerned" by reports that a Hong Kong consulate employee had been detained by mainland Chinese authorities on his way back to the city.

The Hong Kong consulate refused to confirm the man's name or further details of the apparent incident and a Chinese official said he was "not aware" of the situation.

But a report in local news outlet HK01 said the consulate employee had failed to return after travelling to Shenzhen in Guangdong province, an hour outside Hong Kong, for a one-day business meeting on August 8.

"We are extremely concerned by reports that a member of our team has been detained returning to Hong Kong from Shenzhen," a Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said in a statement.

"We are providing support to his family and seeking further information from authorities in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong," it added.

Hong Kong police confirmed they had opened a missing person's case on August 9.

"So far we have not received any notification from mainland authorities," of his possible detention in China, spokesman senior superintendent Kong Wing-cheung told reporters.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: "I am not aware of the relevant situation."

- Weeks of rallies -

The incident comes as the financial hub faces its worst political crisis in decades.

Pro-democracy protesters have staged weeks of rallies that have often descended into violent clashes with police.

Beijing has taken an increasingly hard line against the protests, which it sees as a direct challenge to its rule.

It has also repeatedly warned Britain -- the former colonial ruler of Hong Kong -- against "interference" in the protests, and relations between the two countries have been increasingly strained over the issue.

The demonstrations were triggered by a controversial extradition law but have broadened into a call for wider democratic reforms.

China had promised to respect the freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory after its handover from Britain in 1997.

Hong Kong enjoys liberties unseen on the mainland, including freedom of speech, unfettered access to the internet and an independent judiciary.

But the ongoing protests have raised fears of a Chinese crackdown.

Known for its high-tech market, the metropolis of Shenzhen sits behind China's "Great Firewall", which restricts access to news and information.

With Beijing attempting to shape the narrative of the unrest in Hong Kong, Chinese authorities have increased their inspections at the border, including checking the phones and devices of some passengers for photos of the protests.