The deportation of nearly four dozen Taiwanese from Kenya to China, where they are being investigated over wire fraud allegations, is focusing new attention on Beijing's willingness to assert its sovereignty claim over Taiwan, and the leverage it wields over smaller nations in backing that position.

A Chinese spokesman said on Wednesday that under Chinese law, Beijing has jurisdiction in the case of the 45 Taiwanese because the victims of the crimes they are suspected of committing were Chinese.

They are part of a larger group of 117 Taiwanese and mainland Chinese detained by Kenya on suspicion of trying to swindle money from Chinese victims using electronic communications.

Legal experts said Chinese law is not quite so explicit and the case's handling appears to be based mainly on the "one-China principle" that insists Taiwan be viewed as part of China - and Taiwanese as Chinese for legal purposes.

"I think the Chinese are taking a hard approach to these matters," Joseph Cheng, a scholar of Chinese politics formerly at the City University of Hong Kong, said.

"They are saying we can play hard ball, and in places like Kenya we have a lot of influence." Cheng added.

As a major investor in Africa, China has used its influence with several of the continent's governments to further its own aims.

South Africa has barred the Dalai Lama, a nemesis of Beijing, while Zambia has used force to suppress anti-management protests against Chinese-run copper mines.

Kenya is a particularly close ally and its government may have been more than willing to comply with Chinese demands that the Taiwanese be turned over to Beijing.

Along with massive investment in Kenyan infrastructure and businesses, China has chosen the capital, Nairobi, as the African hub for state broadcaster CCTV's African operations.

Source: Agencies