BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese spokesman criticized Taiwan after the self-ruled island released 20 fraud suspects just one day after they were deported from Malaysia, citing a lack of evidence.
China and Taiwan have been tussling over which side would prosecute an international ring of Taiwanese and Chinese who allegedly targeted hundreds of mainland Chinese in telephone scams, the latest spat to inflame cross-Strait tensions.
Malaysia authorities on Friday sent 20 Taiwanese suspects to Taiwan despite protests from China, which claims jurisdiction in the case because its citizens were targeted and it has been investigating the scams.
An Fengshan, the spokesman for the Chinese State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, said Saturday that Taiwan had "disregarded many victims' interests and harmed them a second time" after releasing the suspects, and urged Taiwan to "immediately rectify their mistakes," according to a statement on the office's website.
An said releasing the suspects harmed the two sides' years-long cooperation on criminal investigations and called on Taiwan to "prevent greater damage to the development of cross-Strait relations."
The fight over the deportees reflects a long history of diplomatic wrangling between China and Taiwan, which split in 1949 amid civil war and have been trying to outmaneuver each other in the international arena ever since.
Last week, Kenya sent 45 Taiwanese fraud suspects to China instead of Taiwan, infuriating Taipei officials, who accused Beijing of using its clout with the East African nation to "abduct" its citizens.
Officials in Taiwan have viewed Beijing's demands for the fraud suspects as a sign that China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, is interfering with Taiwanese affairs and exerting its legal authority over Taiwanese citizens abroad. Beijing, meanwhile, has voiced frustration that it cannot deal with criminal suspects targeting its own citizens despite its law enforcement efforts.
The international criminal gang, mostly based out of Southeast Asia, is accused of swindling Chinese through telephone calls by pretending to be police or insurance agents.
Malaysia detained a total of 120 foreigners — 68 from China and 52 from Taiwan — during a bust last month. Two of the so-called masterminds were from China and were deported last Wednesday, after which China requested the remaining 118 be sent to the mainland.
Malaysia is expected to send the remaining 32 Taiwanese suspects back to Taiwan, according to a Malaysian official who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.
Taiwanese officials are expected to arrive in Beijing as early as Monday to discuss the ongoing dispute.