Cambodia yesterday said it would deport 21 Taiwanese nationals arrested on fraud charges to China, ignoring attempts by Taiwanese officials to have them returned instead to Taiwan.
Cambodian authorities arrested 13 of the Taiwanese along with 14 Chinese on Monday last week.
Another eight Taiwanese suspects were detained on Saturday, Cambodia’s General Department of Immigration Director of Inspection and Procedure Major General Uk Heisela said.
“We have decided to deport them to China because they all are Chinese. The Chinese side has asked us to wait while they work out whether to send a plane or buy tickets for them,” Heisela told reporters yesterday.
He said Cambodia refused to draw a distinction between Chinese and Taiwanese, as the country adheres to a “one China” policy.
Cambodia is historically one of Beijing’s closest allies in Southeast Asia.
In April both Malaysia and Kenya deported Taiwanese nationals to China sparking uproar in Taipei.
Cambodia had yet to set a date for the deportation, Heisela said.
Cambodian police said the suspects contacted people in China asking for money to free relatives held captive.
The suspects had admitted to posing as police and court officials to extort money, Heisela said.
Observers see the cases as China putting pressure on Taiwan’s new government — which took office in May — as Beijing does not trust the traditionally pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the Cambodia arrests and accused Beijing of pressuring Phnom Penh.
“China requested Cambodia to send all the suspects to the mainland as most of the victims in this case are in China, and they obstructed our personnel from visiting the Taiwanese suspects,” the foreign ministry said.
Taiwanese officials based in Vietnam traveled to Cambodia, but were not allowed to visit the suspects, the ministry added.
Cambodian Department of Immigration spokesmen Heisela and Kem Sarin said they were unaware of a visit by Taiwanese officials.
The foreign ministry added that another four Taiwanese had been arrested at the Phnom Penh airport on Saturday, but it is unclear whether it is related to the same fraud case.
While President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has repeatedly pledged to maintain the “status quo,” she also has not bowed down to pressure to accept Beijing’s definition of cross-strait relations.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, meanwhile, said the government still hopes Taiwanese nationals can be brought back to Taiwan.
The council said it on Sunday conveyed to China via a liaison channel that sending the Taiwanese fraud suspects to China would be unhelpful to maintaining an amiable cross-strait interaction and that it does not hope to see similar incident happen again.
The Chinese side has not made a response so far, the council said.
Additional reporting by Reuters AND CNA
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