Thailand bucked a recent when it sent a group of Taiwanese telecommunication fraud suspects to Taiwan today.

The group of 14 men and four women were arrested in Bangkok after a raid on a residential building, according to local media. Two other suspects, both Chinese women, were also arrested in the raid.

“The raid was carried out based on intelligence provided by Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau, according to Taiwan's representative office to Thailand,” Taiwan’s Central News Agency reports.

Just three days ago, CNA reported that Thai authorities said another group of 25 Taiwanese fraud suspects – arrested with 19 Chinese in July – would be deported to China after their trial.

Taiwanese nationals being deported to China after being charged with telecom fraud overseas has become so common that an anti-telephone fraud commercial was released by the Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council in December 2016, warning offenders that they could “face deportation to China, ruining [your] bright future.”

The issue has at times become politicized, with some linking the Kenya deportations to “pressure” China has piled on Taiwan since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office in May 2016. Other commentators have argued that China is legally justified to pursue the Taiwanese nationals as these cases often involve victims in China as well as suspects who used false Chinese documents and traveled from China. There has also been disagreement over the substance and working of “agreements” between Taiwan and China in handling such cases.

In February, Spain announced that it would deport to China more than 218 Taiwanese arrested in December 2016 for a phone scamming operation. Among a spate of similar cases last year, Taiwanese were deported to China from Kenya, Cambodia, Malaysia and Armenia. In each instance, it is understood that Taiwanese officials tried to secure the deportation of Taiwan nationals to Taiwan, but China, which holds greater diplomatic clout, has appeared to frustrate their efforts.

While rare, there have been other exceptions. In September last year, police in Indonesia sent 11 Taiwanese who were arrested along with alleged 20 Chinese telephone scammers back to Taiwan.

Surprising move

Today’s move by Thai authorities was doubly surprising given signs of increasing Chinese interference in Thailand or at least a willingness on the part of the junta-led Thai government to comply to China’s wishes.

In October last year, Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) was held incommunicado for hours after landing at Bangkok International Airport. Wong, who had been due to speak at a university in Bangkok, was reportedly stopped from entering the country at the request of Chinese authorities.

“I was afraid I would be the next Gui Minhai (桂敏海) and be kidnapped from Thailand and taken to China,” Wong told The News Lens in an interview in Taipei earlier this year.

Gui, a Swedish citizen, was one of a group of five booksellers from Hong Kong who went missing in 2015. He was abducted in Thailand and reappeared later on Chinese state television. He remains the only group member still in detention in China.

Luckily for Wong, 20, whose leadership during the 2014 student uprising in Hong Kong and ongoing activism has kept him in the spotlight, his detainment in Thailand was promptly made public by a local activist and immediately drew international media attention. After 12 hours waiting by himself, unable to contact a lawyer and unaware what was happening outside his cell, he was on a plane back to Hong Kong.

In 2015, China was Thailand’s top import origin and second biggest export destination.

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Editor: Olivia Yang