China steps up war of words with Taiwan over fraud suspects

BEIJING (Reuters) - China stepped up its war of words with Taiwan on Monday after Taipei freed 20 suspects in a telecom fraud case linked to China, with state media accusing Taiwan of tolerating crime and being taken hostage by anti-Chinese forces.

Malaysia had deported the 20 people, who were part of a group of 53 Taiwanese it arrested in March on suspicion of fraud, according to Taiwan’s foreign ministry. But their release has prompted anger from Beijing.

Taiwan, for its part, has been infuriated by the forcible deportation of more than 40 Taiwanese people to China from Kenya, also on suspicion of telecom fraud. China says they are wanted for crimes committed against Chinese people in China.

Such telecoms fraud typically involves calls from people pretending to be law enforcement officials or companies saying money is owed to them, China says.

In a strongly worded editorial on Monday, the influential state-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said Taiwan’s release of the 20 had disgraced the island’s rule of law and politicized what should be a normal legal case.

It accused the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which won presidential and parliamentary elections by a landslide in January, of manipulating public opinion and stirring anti-China feeling.

“The key is that the mainland should stick more firmly to its principles, and resolutely resist the rascally demands by Taiwan’s twisted politics,” it said.

“Western democratic politics can easily provide a hotbed for radicalism and extremism. Taiwan and Hong Kong both have demonstrated this tendency,” the paper added, referring to recent protests in the former British colony.

The DPP did not respond to a request for comment.

Taiwan’s Criminal Investigation Bureau says the 20 were freed as there was insufficient evidence to detain them.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang would not directly say whether China had lodged a protest with Malaysia about the case, saying only that China and Malaysia are developing relations in many areas and they had a mutual interest in cross-border law and order cooperation.

“The one China principle is an important political pre-condition for China to develop relations with countries around the world,” Lu told a daily news briefing.

China claims self-ruled and democratic Taiwan as a wayward province, to be brought under its control by force if needed. Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war to the Communists in 1949.

China says the cases of the fraud suspects, whether from Kenya or Malaysia, should be a simple criminal matter.

China’s official Xinhua news agency on Monday published fraud victims’ denunciations of the release of the suspects by Malaysia.

“When we saw that Taiwan gang had been caught we felt relieved. Now they’ve been released this is a covert toleration of their crimes, which is hateful!” said one 67-year-old victim, surnamed Liu.

China’s Ministry of Public Security says Taiwanese people have been heavily involved in telecom fraud in China and had caused huge losses, with some victims killing themselves.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by J.R. Wu in Taipei; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Simon Cameron-Moore