Taiwanese officials are seeking to ensure fair treatment for their nationals who were deported from Kenya to face wire fraud charges in China, a case that has prompted concerns that Beijing is bringing additional diplomatic pressure on the island it considers its own territory.
A 10-member delegation of judicial and police officials arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for talks that will also try to set up a mechanism for cooperation on such cases, team leader Chen Wen-chi said before departing Taiwan.
"We hope both sides can work together on crime investigation and share out the work and help each other for dealing with this case," said Chen, who heads the Justice Ministry's department of international and cross-strait legal affairs.
Chen and her delegation made no further comments after arriving in Beijing just before noon. Along with holding discussions with their Chinese counterparts, they were expected to visit the Beijing detention centre where the 45 suspects deported from Kenya are being held before returning to Taiwan on Friday.
In Taiwan, Premier Simon Chang said that the delegation would discuss having the suspects transferred to Taiwanese custody during the investigation, but that it would be a lengthy process.
Another possibility would be to have them serve their sentences in Taiwan if convicted in China, Chang said, adding, "We cannot be optimistic" about their coming home any time soon.
China claims jurisdiction in the Kenya case because it says the alleged victims of the fraud artists were residents of mainland China. Officials and state media have also complained that Taiwan doesn't punish such crimes harshly enough, encouraging others to try their luck at such relatively low-risk, low-overhead scams that can potentially lead to massive payouts.
Taiwan says Beijing violated a tacit understanding under which both sides agreed not to interfere in the legal affairs of their citizens abroad.
China's moves on the deportations are widely seen an attempt to assert its claims to sovereignty over Taiwan and legal authority over its residents, particularly in the run-up to the inauguration of Taiwan's independence-leaning President-elect Tsai Ing-wen next month.
The sides split amid civil war in 1949 and China has long sought to isolate Taiwan diplomatically by preventing it from maintaining formal ties with most countries and international organisations such as the United Nations.
While Beijing has observed an undeclared diplomatic truce under the administration of outgoing China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou, observers say Beijing could take a much harder line if Tsai refuses to meet basic conditions, including recognising the claim that Taiwan is part of China.
Taiwanese criminals have been blamed for a proliferation of telephone and computer scams in which fraudsters posing as police, insurance agents or government officials attempt to trick their victims into providing personal financial information or transferring money.
Chinese broadcaster CCTV has aired footage of some of the Taiwanese suspects deported from Kenya handcuffed and wearing prison garb. Some have admitted to taking part in scams and expressed remorse, part of China's controversial practice of broadcasting confessions from suspects prior to their trials.
Facing intense public pressure, Taiwanese officials managed last week to convince Malaysia to deport a separate group of Taiwanese criminal suspects to Taiwan despite Beijing's request that they be sent to China.
However, with little evidence of their alleged crimes and no arrest warrants, police released them upon arrival in Taiwan, prompting outrage in China.