Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday that the government “would be concerned” if freedom of expression was undermined in Hong Kong following the latest disappearance of a bookseller who sold books banned on the mainland.

Last week, Lee Bo, 65, became the fifth employee of publisher Mighty Current and its Causeway Bay Bookstore to go missing in Hong Kong, causing international concern that Chinese authorities might have abducted them despite the city’s judicial independence having been guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” principle espoused by Beijing.

Mighty Current is known for gossipy titles about Chinese political scandals and other sensitive issues popular with visiting tourists from the mainland.

“Our country is closely watching the situation with a high level of interest,” Suga told a daily news conference when asked to comment on the issue.

“Respect for freedom of expression, fundamental human rights and rule of law are universal values of the international society. It’s extremely important that (those values) are guaranteed in Hong Kong,” the top government spokesman said.

“If any situation that goes against (those values) has occurred, the Japanese government would be concerned,” Suga said.

“Our country strongly hopes that Hong Kong will continue developing democratically in a free and open regime,” he added.

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