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China disappearances show Beijing sets its own rules

The recent disappearances of two high-profile Chinese citizens have once again focused international attention on China's legal system and its use of secret detentions.

First to vanish was A-list actress Fan Bingbing, who appeared in the X-Men and Iron Man film franchises.

She was not seen in public for months over the summer and went silent on social media, before turning up in early October with a grovelling apology for evading taxes.

Two days after she re-appeared, it emerged that the president of global policing agency Interpol, Meng Hongwei, had disappeared on a trip to China. , which she took to mean he was in danger.

On 8 October, Chinese authorities announced he was being investigated for bribe-taking.

While these two cases have triggered a wave of international attention, forced disappearances are nothing new in China.

But these latest instances "show just how fundamental such enforced disappearances have become to governance in China under President Xi", says Michael Caster, a researcher and author of The People's Republic of the Disappeared.

Typically, he says, the scenario plays out like this:

The disappearances : human rights lawyers, corrupt officials, officials who are targeted for political reasons, , or prominent people who fall foul of the party for one reason or another.

Since Xi Jinping took over as China's top leader in 2012, the space for dissent in China has shrunk - and activists say the crackdown is getting tougher and more systematic.