Taiwan scrambles armed jets as Chinese air force flies around island

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TAIPEI (Reuters) — Taiwan’s air force scrambled armed fighters on Sunday to intercept Chinese jets that flew around the island claimed by Beijing as its own, in a move denounced by Taiwan’s Defense 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 Defense 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 defense forces in accordance with combat readiness regulations,” it said.

It provided a picture of a Taiwan air force F-16 shadowing one of the Chinese H-6 bombers. Taiwan’s official Central News Agency said the scrambled F-16s carried live missiles.

“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.

China’s Eastern Theatre Command, in a statement late on Sunday carried by the official People’s Liberation Army Daily, said the aircraft carried out “real combat-oriented training.”

“Taiwan and its island are sacred and inalienable parts of China. The Chinese military’s combat ready patrol was a completely legitimate and necessary action aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait and safeguarding national sovereignty.”

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