EU demands 'proper answer' over detained staff member in China

The EU Delegation in China staff member was detained by police in September last year. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - The European Union has demanded a "proper answer" from the Chinese authorities over the arrest of a local employee at its Beijing mission who has been held for eight months.

The EU Delegation in China staff member was detained by police in September 2021, the bloc confirmed in an e-mail statement.

"Despite multiple requests on our side to the Chinese authorities, we have so far not been informed neither of the allegation(s) nor of the specific charges," said EU spokesman Nabila Massrali.

"We will continue inquiring until we get a proper answer," she said, adding that the EU was "concerned for his well-being".

French newspaper Le Monde originally reported that an IT department employee identified as An Dong was arrested on suspicion of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" - a vague charge often used to stifle dissent, which carries a maximum of five years' imprisonment.

The EU had sent three written communiques to the Chinese authorities demanding further information about his alleged offences and that he be allowed access to a lawyer of his choice, the report stated.

The Chinese national is reportedly being held in south-western Sichuan province - thousands of kilometres from Beijing.

The case is a rare example of an employee of a Western diplomatic mission being arrested in China.

Mr Simon Cheng, a former local staff member at the British Consulate in Hong Kong, claimed he was tortured by Chinese police in 2019 after being detained for 15 days during a business trip to the mainland.

Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig was jailed for almost three years in China on charges of espionage in apparent retaliation for Canada's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou over fraud charges.

Mr Kovrig was freed in September 2021, along with another Canadian arrested at around the same time.

China-EU ties have deteriorated since the Covid-19 pandemic, with the two powers trading sanctions over a variety of rights issues.

The EU has accused China of economic coercion over an unofficial trade embargo of Lithuania launched shortly after the Baltic country allowed Taiwan to open a representative office.

More recently, the EU has warned China not to provide military or financial backing to Russia as it wages its bloody invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.