Taipei, Taiwan (Reuters): A Taiwan man who had gone missing in China is being investigated on suspicion of harming national security, China's government said on Wednesday, in a case that has caused alarm on the self-ruled and democratic island Beijing claims as its own.
Lee Ming-che, a community college worker known for supporting human rights in China, disappeared earlier this month after entering China's Zhuhai city via the Chinese territory of Macau.
Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, told a regular news briefing, "According to what is understood, Taiwanese resident, Lee Ming-che is suspected of engaging in activities endangering national security and is being investigated by the relevant authority. At present his health is good."
It was the first official response from China on the matter after more than a week since Lee disappeared on March 19.
Lee's case is being handling in accordance with legal process, and the Taiwan Affairs Office has "seen" family requests about the issue, Ma added, without giving other details.
"We will request visitation to see Mr Lee," Cheng Hsiu-chuan, spokeswoman for Lee's family and head of the local community college where Lee works, told Reuters, on hearing about Lee's whereabouts.
Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said on the weekend that China's failure to respond to Lee's case was causing his family "anxiety and panic", and called on authorities to protect the rights of Taiwan people.
The DPP said Chinese authorities had repeatedly said they would protect the rights of Taiwan people in China in accordance with the law.
Ma said Taiwanese people coming to China for "normal" activities did not have anything to worry about and their rights would be protected.
"The mainland has rule of law," he said. "On this point, Taiwan compatriots can rest at ease."
Relations between Beijing and Taiwan have worsened in the past year, largely because Beijing distrusts the DPP, which took power last year and traditionally supports independence for Taiwan, a red line for China.
Beijing regards the proudly democratic island as a breakaway province and it has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Beijing's control. Taiwan has shown no interest in being run by autocratic China.
Beijing cut off official communications with Taiwan after President Tsai Ing-wen took office last year. Tsai, also leader of the DPP, says she wants peace but has never conceded that Taiwan is a part of China.
Taiwan's agencies for dealing with China – its Straits Exchange Foundation and Mainland Affairs Council – have previously said they had been unable to raise a response from their Chinese counterparts over Lee's case.
Rights group Amnesty International said last week Lee's case raised questions about the safety of people working with civil society in China.
Amnesty International said that Lee had been supporting organizations and activists in China for years but went to China this time for personal matters related to mother-in-law's medical condition.