BEIJING – Taiwanese officials have protested Malaysia's deportation of 32 of the self-ruled island's nationals to China this weekend to face wire fraud charges, the latest in a series of disputes that has raised new friction between China and Taiwan.
The deportation follows the sending of nearly four dozen Taiwanese from Kenya to China last month, a case some experts and observers see as an attempt by Beijing to bully the island that it claims as its own territory.
Chinese authorities have said they need to crack down on perpetrators of phone scams that have resulted in an estimated 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) of losses each year. Scammers posing as officials from the police, government, banks or insurance companies convince their victims to transfer funds or provide personal information that can be used to steal from them.
The Taiwanese Cabinet, in a statement late Saturday, said that China pressured Malaysia to deport the Taiwanese wire fraud suspects to the mainland against Taiwan's wishes.
The island's foreign ministry lodged a protest with Malaysia for taking that action despite Taiwanese officials' efforts to negotiate, and said the deportations would hurt relations. In April, the Southeast Asian nation sent 20 Taiwanese wire fraud suspects back to Taiwan despite Beijing's request that they be sent to China.
China claims jurisdiction in these cases because it says the victims of the alleged fraud were residents of mainland China.
The Taiwanese were part of a group of 97 phone fraud suspects Malaysia deported to the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou on Saturday night. The other 65 among them were mainland Chinese citizens, Chinese state media reported.
Malaysian government officials confirmed Sunday that the Taiwanese were sent to mainland China.
An official, who declined to be named because he isn't authorized to speak to the media, said the decision came after Beijing made further appeals to the Malaysian government after the earlier group of Taiwanese suspects were repatriated to Taiwan.
The official Xinhua News Agency said all the suspects arrived in the city bound by shackles and wearing black hoods.
Officials and state media have complained that Taiwan doesn't punish such crimes harshly enough, encouraging others to try their luck at such relatively low-risk, low-overhead scams that can potentially lead to massive payouts.
Taiwan says Beijing violated a tacit understanding under which both sides agreed not to interfere in the legal affairs of their citizens abroad.
Associated Press writer Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.