BEIJING (AP) — China on Monday welcomed a Spanish court's decision to grant Beijing's request for the extradition of 121 Taiwanese nationals to China, a move that has drawn criticism from Taiwan, a self-ruled island.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a regular briefing that Beijing appreciated Spain's firm support of its "One China" principle, which is Beijing's view that it has sovereignty over Taiwan.
Scores of Taiwanese have been arrested around the world over the past two years in connection with telecoms fraud scams targeting Chinese nationals. Countries including Malaysia, Cambodia and Kenya have deported Taiwanese suspects to China, in deference to Beijing which views Taiwan as its own territory without sovereign legal status and has long tried to diplomatically isolate it.
The deportations have highlighted Beijing's efforts to assert its sovereignty over Taiwan, and the leverage it wields over smaller nations to achieve that.
The Taiwanese foreign ministry on Sunday urged the Spanish government to send the suspects back to Taiwan instead of China. Taiwanese media reports cited a ministry spokesman as saying the European nation should observe the principles of nationality, proportionality and humanity.
In Beijing, Hua said the Spanish court's decision Friday was an "important outcome" of cooperation between China and Spain in using extradition to crack down on crime.
The Taiwanese nationals are accused of belonging to Spain-based gangs that swindled people in China out of millions of euros by telephone.
Interpol told Spain about the scam a year ago, and Spanish and Chinese authorities cooperated in an operation against the perpetrators.
Officials said the gangs made contact with people in China, pretending at first they were friends or family and warning them of fraud scams. In later calls, they pretended to be police investigating the scams and convinced many of the victims to put money into bank accounts run by the gangs.
Spain's National Court ruled there was no impediment to the extradition. Spain has an extradition treaty with China and no diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The democratic island split from the Chinese mainland during a civil war in 1949.
The suspects' lawyers argued against extradition, saying their Taiwanese nationality meant they couldn't be sent to China.
The court rejected those arguments, noting that international law has increasingly accepted the "One China" principle and that Taiwan does not have diplomatic relations with the European Union.
Friday's decision can be appealed to a higher tribunal within the Spanish National Court.