Taiwan said on Monday it had lodged a complaint with Kenya over the deportation of five of its nationals to China after a court acquitted them of charges of running illegal telecoms operations.
A Kenyan magistrate's court acquitted the five Taiwanese nationals and 35 Chinese citizens last Friday after the prosecution failed to prove its case against them.
In her ruling, trial magistrate Joyce Gandani said the five should be repatriated to their country of origin, Taiwan, but John Chen, a representative of the Taiwanese government based in South Africa, said they had instead been sent to China.
Kenya, along with a large majority of other countries around the world, has no diplomatic relations with Taiwan and considers the island part of China, in line with Beijing's position.
"Kenyan authorities sent in a clandestine manner the five Taiwan nationals, together with 35 Chinese, on board a plane chartered by the Chinese government which flew to China at 23.40 local time last night," Chen said in a statement sent to Reuters.
Taiwan's foreign ministry said in a statement it had expressed a "serious protest" to the Kenyan government and said it was working with the island's ministries of justice and mainland affairs to defend the interests of the five deported citizens via communication channels with China.
Asked about the case, Mwenda Njoka, the spokesman for Kenya's interior ministry, said: "They were taken back where they came from.... We don't have a relationship with Taiwan."
In April Taiwan accused China of kidnapping eight of its nationals from Kenya after they were acquitted in a cyber crime case.
China views Taiwan as a wayward province, to be brought under Beijing's control by force if necessary. Defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island in 1949 after a civil war with the Communists now in control in Beijing.
Only 22 countries around the world recognize Taiwan.
Relations between Taiwan and China improved after the China-friendly Ma Ying-jeou took power in 2008 as Taiwan president and signed a series of landmark trade and business deals.
But China has looked on with suspicion at Taiwan since Tsai Ing-wen and her independence-leaning DPP won presidential and parliamentary elections in January. (Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Gareth Jones)