China air force conducts long-range drills near Taiwan, says island's defence ministry

A B-6K strategic bomber aircraft of the Chinese Air Force. Chinese aircraft flew over waterways near Taiwan as part of long-range exercises on Dec 10, 2016.
A B-6K strategic bomber aircraft of the Chinese Air Force. Chinese aircraft flew over waterways near Taiwan as part of long-range exercises on Dec 10, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Chinese military aircraft on Saturday (Dec 10) flew over waterways near Taiwan as part of long-range exercises, the island's defence ministry said, the first such flights since a telephone call between Taiwan's leader and US President-elect Donald Trump irked China.

The move also comes a day after the US Congress's approval of the country's last annual defence budget Bill that calls for senior military exchanges between US and Taiwan.

The Chinese jets flew north to south and entered the Miyako Strait around Japan's southern islands as well as the Bashi Channel south of Taiwan, but did not enter Taiwan's air defence identification zone, Taiwan's defence ministry said in a statement.

The drills, lasting for about four hours, involved more than 10 aircraft, including four electronic surveillance planes that flew through the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.

China, which has in recent years become more assertive in the western Pacific and South China Sea, has carried out similar exercises in the area since September.

The Chinese air force has described the exercises as part of regular, annual drills which accord with international law and practice.

There was no indication the exercise by its military aircraft on Saturday was a response to the Trump-Tsai telephone call or the Congress move.

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own and has never renounced the use of force to take back what it deems a wayward province.

Trump's call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Dec 2 was the first between a US president-elect or president and a Taiwan leader since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 1979.

China lodged a diplomatic protest over the call and blamed Taiwan for what it called a "petty" move.

Separately on Friday, China reiterated its opposition to official and military relations between the US and Taiwan in any form, in response to the US Congress's approval on Thursday of the country's latest annual defence budget Bill that calls for senior military exchanges between the two sides.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang noted that China had lodged solemn representation to the US about the National Defence Authorisation Act many times since it was put forward by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The Taiwan issue concerns China's sovereignty and territorial integrity and is the most important and sensitive issue to China-US relations, he said at a daily press briefing according to Xinhua news agency.

"China's stance is consistent and clear, and well known to the international community," Lu was quoted as saying .

"The US side should cautiously handle the issue and not to turn back the wheels of history, so as to avoid disturbance to the China-US relations."