Taiwan protests against Malaysia's deportation of fraud suspects to China

TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) - Taiwan has expressed its “stern opposition” to Malaysia’s deportation of 21 Taiwanese suspected of multi-million dollar telecoms fraud to China, the latest example of a problem that has strained cross-Strait ties.

China’s official Xinhua news agency said the 21 Taiwanese were among 74 fraud suspects who were escorted from Malaysia by Chinese police and arrived in Wuhan in central China late on Tuesday. The other 53 were all Chinese.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry expressed regret and “stern opposition” to Malaysia’s decision to deport the Taiwanese to China, according to a statement on its website.

“This action by Malaysia has seriously harmed the rights of our citizens, and harms the long standing friendship between Taiwan and Malaysia,” it said.

The statement also said Taiwanese police had been working with Malaysia to arrange for the suspects to be returned to Taiwan but that Beijing had pressured the Malaysian government to send all suspects to the mainland.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, its China policymaker, said Beijing’s unilateral action “damages the tacit understanding and foundation for cooperation between security agencies”.

It said in a statement that cracking down on cross-border telecom fraud depended on cooperation from both sides.

Malaysia’s foreign ministry did not immediately comment on the deportations.

Malaysia does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan and treats the island as part of China in line with Beijing’s “one China” principle, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office suggested the blame lay with Taipei for its lack of coordination in fighting crime and for not effectively stopping Taiwanese from participating in such acts.

China has suspended its main dialogue mechanism with Taiwan since the election of Tsai Ing-wen as Taiwan’s president earlier this year, somebody China views as promoting the island’s formal independence.

“They should reflect upon Taiwan’s relevant rules and Taiwan’s political culture,” Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang told reporters in Beijing.

Xinhua described the deportations as part of cooperation between Malaysian and Chinese police to crack down on several Malaysian-based fraud gangs who they say have been scamming people on the Chinese mainland.

Those deported are suspected of involvement in more than 500 cross-border fraud cases, online and over the phone, totaling more than 60 million yuan ($8.7 million), it said.

Since last November, China has cooperated with police in Kenya, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia to break up more than 60 telecom fraud rings and arrest more than 1,000 suspects, China’s public security ministry said in September.

China has aired televised confessions by some of the Taiwan people previously deported, raising concern in Taiwan over violations of due process.

Reporting by J.R. Wu and Christian Shepherd; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Paul Tait