Bao Zhuoxuan, the son of detained lawyer Wang Yu, had planned to meet human rights activists in Thailand last Sunday after slipping out of China across its south-western border with Myanmar, the Guardian understands.
The son of a crusading human rights lawyer at the centre of an unprecedented Chinese government crackdown has disappeared while attempting to flee to the United States through south-east Asia.
The 16-year-old, whose Chinese passport was confiscated following his mother’s detention earlier this year, had intended to request asylum at the US embassy in Bangkok. A family in San Francisco had agreed to care for the teenager, whose father, Bao Longjun, is also currently in the custody of Chinese security services.
But Bao failed to turn up at the agreed rendezvous point in the Thai capital.
On Thursday, after days without news, activists learned uniformed officers had taken Bao and two Chinese travel companions from a hotel in Mong La, a notorious border town near Myanmar’s border with China, two days earlier.
Zhou Fengsuo, a San Francisco-based human rights activist involved in the teenager’s attempt to escape, said it was not clear if Bao remained in Myanmar or had been returned to China.
“This is like my worst nightmare,” said Zhou, who had been in Thailand to meet Bao but has now returned to the US.
“I am very worried about their safety and I want to know where they are. This is so frustrating. He is just a boy. He should not have to go through this. His parents are both in prison and he is under constant surveillance.
“All we want is for him to be able to have a peaceful life here in the US and to be able to go to school. It is so devastating.”
Bao’s mother, Wang Yu, has not been seen since she was taken from their Beijing home by security agents in the early hours of 9 July.
She was the first of dozens of lawyers and activists to be detained as part of a co-ordinated operation against China’s outspoken community of human rights lawyers. Nearly 300 lawyers and activists have been detained or questioned since the crackdown began.
Speaking earlier this year, before her detention, Wang said: “Nobody is safe under a dictatorship.”
Beijing’s crackdown, which experts say is designed to wipe out any opposition to President Xi Jinping and the Communist party he leads, has sparked international condemnation.
“Human rights and rule of law have suffered a devastating blow since president Xi Jinping came to power,” Marco Rubio, the US presidential hopeful, said this week, pointing to Beijing’s offensives against Christian churches and lawyers such as Wang Yu.
“A government that does not respect the rights and basic dignity of its own people cannot be assumed to be a responsible actor in the global arena,” Rubio added.
William Nee, a Hong Kong-based activist for Amnesty International, said Bao’s detention signalled China’s crackdown had spread beyond its borders.
Bao’s disappearance represented a “gross violation of human rights, and the internationalization of Chinese repression,” Nee said.
Speaking to the New York Times, U Zaw Htay, an official from the office of Myanmar’s president, denied his government had been involved in Bao’s apparent detention in Mong La.
“The Myanmar government wasn’t involved in any matter there,” he claimed. “We don’t know about the arrest of the Chinese lawyer’s son. Of course, Mong La is close to the Chinese authorities.”