Deportation of telecom fraud suspects
Chinese officials check the body of a suspect of telecom fraud as he is deported to China at the International Airport of Phnom Penh, Cambodia in June 2016 REUTERS/Samrang Pring

Taiwan has strongly protested against the deportation of 21 of its nationals from Malaysia to China after they were suspected of involvement in a multi-million dollar telecom fraud. The Taiwanese were among 74 suspects who were deported from Malaysia to mainland China by the Chinese police late on Tuesday (29 November).

The other 53 suspects were all Chinese nationals. According to China's official Xinhua news agency, the deported suspects were allegedly involved in over 500 cross-border telecom and cyber fraud cases, totalling more than yuan 60m ($8.7m).

Taiwan's foreign ministry expressed "stern opposition" to Malaysia's decision in sending its nationals to China, Reuters reported.

"This action by Malaysia has seriously harmed the rights of our citizens, and harms the long-standing friendship between Taiwan and Malaysia," the ministry said in a statement.

The Taiwanese police had been working with Malaysian authorities to make arrangements for the suspects to be returned to Taipei, but the ministry said Beijing had pressured the Malaysian government to send all the suspects to its mainland.

China's unilateral action "damages the tacit understanding and foundation for cooperation between security agencies", said Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, an agency which plans and implements policies between Taiwan and mainland China.

Xinhua said the Malaysian and Chinese police cooperated in the deportation process after it was allegedly found that several gangs were scamming people on the Chinese mainland from hideouts in Malaysia.

Beijing has accused Taipei of failing to crack down on the telecom fraud and stopping its nationals from engaging in such activities.

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

China has been critical of Taiwan after a pro-democratic party won the elections earlier this year, installing the country's first female President Tsai-ing Win. As she has refused to pledge to a 'One China' policy on several occasions, Beijing is wary she would promote the island nation's formal independence.

The Malaysian foreign ministry is yet to comment on the deportations. It does not have direct diplomatic ties with Taiwan and sees it as a part of Chinese territory.

China has previously cooperated with authorities from Kenya, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia to crack down on more than 60 telecom fraud rings, which led to the arrest of over 1,000 suspects. It had even aired televised confessions by some previously deported Taiwanese, raising concerns in Taipei over Beijing violating the process.