Spain's National Court on Tuesday issued arrest orders for former Chinese president Jiang Zemin and four other officials as part of a probe into alleged genocide by China against Tibet.
The court said it accepted arguments from Spanish pro-Tibet rights groups that international reports indicate the five may have had a role in the alleged genocide and should be questioned.
The five also include former Prime Minister Li Peng; former security and police chief Qiao Shi; Chen Kuiyan, a former Communist Party official in Tibet; and Pen Pelyun, ex-family planning minister. None has been formally charged.
China has previously described the investigation as interference in its affairs and called the claims "sheer fabrication."
Officials at the Chinese Embassy in Madrid did not immediately comment on the court's decision. A woman who answered the phone at the embassy told an AP reporter to fax questions to the embassy, and there was no immediate response after the fax was sent.
Former Chinese President Hu Jintao is also under investigation although his arrest has not been sought. When he was named in the probe, China's Foreign Ministry said the Tibetan issue was a Chinese matter, adding that it hoped Spain would handle this issue properly.
Spain's legal system recognizes the universal justice principle, under which genocide suspects can be put on trial outside their home country.
The policy allowed former judge Baltasar Garzon to try to chase late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
In practice, very few probes have seen people brought to trial in Spain. Meanwhile, the investigations have irked some countries, most notably China and Israel, and led to accusations that Spain was behaving like a global policeman.
Alan Cantos, president of Spain's Tibet Support Committee, which first pressed for the probe in 2008, expressed satisfaction with the court decision but was not overly optimistic that anyone would be brought to trial.
The court must process the arrest orders via Interpol.
"It's not easy, but it's a big step," Cantos told The Associated Press. "They are stuck in their own country and a competent court is pointing the finger at them. It's so they don't have it too easy."