BEIJING/WASHINGTON • China's foreign ministry has said its law enforcement officials would never do anything illegal, especially not overseas, after the United States called on China to clarify the status of five missing Hong Kong booksellers, including one who vanished in Thailand last year.
The booksellers, including a dual British and Chinese national and owner of a publisher and bookstore specialising in books critical of China's Communist Party leaders, Mr Lee Bo, 65, are believed by many to have been abducted by Chinese agents.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby told a regular news briefing on Monday the US was "deeply concerned", and the cases raised questions about China's commitment to Hong Kong's autonomy under a "one country, two systems" framework as well as about its respect for rights.
"We urge China to clarify the current status of all five individuals and the circumstances surrounding their disappearances, and to allow them to return to their homes," Mr Kirby said.
In response yesterday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Hong Kong's autonomy was fully respected, and that as the territory was China's, no foreign officials had the right to interfere or offer "not really appropriate" comments about the place.
The wife of Mr Lee, who disappeared from Hong Kong on Dec 30, visited him in a Chinese guest house on Jan 23.
She later issued a statement saying he was healthy and in good spirits, and that he was a witness in an investigation.
Four other booksellers are believed to be in Chinese detention, including Swedish national Gui Minhai, who disappeared from the Thai resort town of Pattaya in October last year. He surfaced on Chinese state television last month, stating he had turned himself in to the Chinese authorities over a fatal drink-driving case more than a decade ago.
Asked whether China had kidnapped Mr Gui in Thailand, Mr Lu said Chinese law enforcers always abided by the law.
"If we need to have certain law enforcement cooperation with other countries' governments, this is done in agreement with both sides in accordance with the law," he said.
The disappearances have prompted fears that the Chinese authorities may be using shadowy tactics that erode the "one country, two systems" formula under which Hong Kong has been governed since its return to China from British rule in 1997.
Britain handed Hong Kong back under agreements that its broad freedoms, way of life and legal system would remain unchanged for 50 years.