Li Xin's disappearance was the latest in a string of mysterious cases involving Chinese writers or dissidents whom Beijing seems to have apprehended as they sought asylum in Thailand. The cases have caused apprehension among human rights advocates, who believe China has expanded its pursuit of critics to beyond its borders.
Li's wife, He Fangmei, said she spoke to her husband earlier Wednesday. He told her he "voluntarily came back to China to help with the investigation and that she should not talk to foreign media."
"I know this is them (the Chinese government) speaking; it completely contradicts what Li Xin would like to say," she said. She was distraught and cried during the call.
Li refused to say where he was and asked her not to ask any questions.
Li was last heard from on January 11 when he told his wife he was on a train from Thailand to Laos.
A former editor at a prominent Chinese newspaper, Li said local authorities pressed him to spy on human rights advocates and nongovernmental organizations. He tried to seek asylum in India and then Thailand.
His case is the fourth one since October involving a Chinese dissident being either extradited or disappearing from Thailand.
On October 28, two dissidents were arrested over immigration violations in Bangkok. Despite being recognized as refugees by the United Nations, Dong Guangping and Jiang Yefei were handed over to Chinese custody and later appeared in a confession broadcast on Chinese state television. The U.N. refugee agency said the deportations "deeply concerned" it.
Earlier in October, a Chinese-born Swedish national disappeared from his apartment in Pattaya, one of Thailand's holiday resorts. Gui Minhai ran a Hong Kong publishing company that specialized in political gossip about Chinese politicians. Three months after he went missing, Chinese state television broadcast him confessing to involvement
in a 2003 fatal hit-and-run accident. He said in that broadcast that he turned himself in voluntarily.
Four other employees of the same publishing house are now missing, including Lee Bo, a Hong Kong resident and UK passport holder. He disappeared from his home in Hong Kong in December and reportedly also later told his wife he went to China of his own volition. Chinese police have since acknowledged he is in their custody.
The European Union, United States and Britain have repeatedly expressed concern over these disappearances.
Lu Kang, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Tuesday that the missing Hong Kong booksellers are an internal matter and foreigners have no right to interfere in the case. He also said all cooperation with foreign law enforcement was "in accordance with law and bilateral agreements."