Hong Kong (AFP)

The family of the British consulate employee who was arrested in China on Saturday said he had returned to the former British colony.

Simon Cheng disappeared on August 8 after visiting Shenzhen, a border town of Hong Kong. The Chinese government finally announced that the consular employee was being held for 15 days.

"Simon Cheng has returned to Hong Kong," said his family on Facebook, saying he would take "time to rest and recover."

Mr. Cheng planned to return on July 8 aboard a high-speed train. He had sent a message to his companion telling him he was about to clear the customs.

But his trace was lost, until Beijing confirmed that he had been detained for 15 days for violating a law on public security.

"We welcome the release of Simon Cheng and are delighted that he can be reunited with his family," a spokesman for the British Foreign Ministry told AFP. "We will continue to support them," she said, adding that Mr. Cheng and his family are asking to respect their private lives.

Relations between Beijing and London have been tense from the start two months ago of the dispute in the former British colony, returned to China in 1997 under an agreement granting it a semi-autonomy.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Wednesday that the young man was not British but Hong Kong, "Chinese" and therefore "fully of a Chinese domestic affair ".

The Chinese press reported that the reason for the arrest was that Mr. Cheng "solicited prostitutes".

The Global Times, known for its nationalist rhetoric, claimed that the police did not contact Simon Cheng's family after his arrest, at the request of the latter. "Thanks to the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the media, who have mounted this case well, his case is now known to all," the newspaper quipped.

But the 28-year-old man's family immediately rejected the allegations of the English-language newspaper on his Facebook page, denouncing a "fabricated" accusation. "Everyone must realize that this is a joke," she said.

Hong Kong is experiencing its worst political crisis since the handover, with almost daily demonstrations denouncing Beijing's growing grip on Hong Kong affairs, in violation of the One Country, Two Systems principle.

The Chinese authorities have stepped up their border controls since the beginning of the demonstrations, including inspecting the phones of some passengers.

© 2019 AFP