TAIPEI, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Taiwan's air force scrambled on Sunday to intercept Chinese jets that flew around the island claimed by Beijing as its own, in a move denounced by Taiwan's Defence Ministry as a threat to regional peace and stability.
China has been flying what it calls "island encirclement" drills on-off since 2016 when Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen first took office.
Beijing believes Tsai, who won re-election last month, wishes to push the island's formal independence. She says Taiwan is an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.
In a statement, Taiwan's Defence Ministry said Chinese J-11 fighters and H-6 bombers flew into the Bashi Channel to the south of Taiwan, then out into the Pacific before heading back to base via the Miyako Strait, located between Japan's islands of Miyako and Okinawa, to the northeast of Taiwan.
"During this period, the national military appropriately used air reconnaissance aircraft and air defence forces in accordance with combat readiness regulations," it said.
The ministry provided a picture of a Taiwan air force F-16 shadowing one of the Chinese H-6 bombers.
"The Chinese Communist's long-range far-out-at-sea missions have impacted regional security and stability and endanger the peace and welfare shared by all parties in the region," the ministry said.
There was no immediate comment from China's Defence Ministry. China has brushed off such drills in the past as nothing out of the ordinary.
Relations between Taipei and Beijing have further plummeted in the past few weeks following the outbreak of the new coronavirus in China, with Taiwan accusing China of preventing the island from accessing full information from the World Health Organization (WHO) or attending its meetings.
Taiwan is not a WHO member due to China's objections, which says the island is merely a Chinese province whose interests in the health body are adequately represented by Beijing.
But in one small diplomatic breakthrough for Taiwan, the WHO said Taiwanese experts will participate this week in an on-line meeting of experts about the virus.
Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said in a Sunday statement this was a "good start" and that they would strive to take part in more WHO events.
Taiwan's WHO troubles last week became another flashpoint in Sino-U.S. ties, with the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva telling the agency to deal directly with Taiwan's government, drawing a sharp rebuke from China. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard: Editing by Neil Fullick)