After days of speculation and failed attempts by Taiwanese officials to convince Phnom Penh to send 25 Taiwanese nationals suspected of telecom fraud to Taiwan rather than to China, as previously announced, the 25 Taiwanese — along with 14 Chinese — were put on a plane bound for China on Friday.

This was the third such incident this year following the deportations by Kenya and Malaysia in April.

Each suspect was escorted by two Chinese police officers, Agence France-Presse reports, adding that a total of 90 Chinese officers had arrived in Cambodia to oversee the matter.

Cambodia is one of Beijing’s staunchest allies in Southeast Asia and one of the most dependent on Chinese economic assistance. According to Voice of America, Phnom Penh needs about US$1 billion in foreign aid annually to operate the government.

Observers have speculated that the recent deportations, which Taipei has characterized as “abductions,” are part of Beijing’s attempt to put pressure on the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration that took office on May 20. Tsai, of the Democratic Progressive Party, has ostensibly angered Beijing for failing to acknowledge “one China” and the so-called 1992 consensus.

Such assessments are undermined by the fact that the April deportations, as well as another similar incident in 2011 involving the Philippines, occurred under the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration, which Beijing regarded as a more amenable partner. Likelier causes of the pressure by Beijing on states to deport Taiwanese nationals to China range from Beijing’s argument that Taipei has failed to prosecute Taiwanese involved in fraud targeting Chinese citizens to a rising extraterritorial assertiveness on China’s part.

Edited by Olivia Yang