China has accused Taiwan of “venomously” attacking the World Health Organization (WHO) and conniving with internet users to spread racist comments, after the agency’s chief said racist slurs against him had come from the island.

Taiwan, claimed by China as its sacred territory, has responded angrily to WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s assertion that “racist slurs” against him had originated in Taiwan, and demanded he apologize saying the accusations are nonsense.

Taiwan’s exclusion from the WHO, due to China’s objections, has infuriated the Taipei government during the coronavirus outbreak.

Taiwan says it has been unable to get timely information and that Taiwanese lives have been put at risk. The WHO denies this.

In a statement late on Thursday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office took aim at the “Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities”, referring to Taiwan’s ruling party and the usual wording Beijing uses for the island’s democratically elected government.

“The DPP authorities are unscrupulously using the virus to seek independence, venomously attacking the WHO and its responsible people, conniving with the green internet army to wantonly spread racist comments,” it said. “We strongly condemn this.”

Green is the DPP’s party color. China believes the DPP is seeking Taiwan’s formal independence, but President Tsai Ing-wen says they are already an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.

Taiwan’s China policy-making Mainland Affairs Council said in response that China should “stop using the WHO to put pressure on us and politically smear us”.

“We are not afraid of threats,” it added.

Taiwan has been proud of its early and so far effective measures against the coronavirus, logging just 380 cases and five deaths to date, far lower than many of its neighbours. Taiwan reported just one new case on Thursday.

Tedros is not a popular figure in Taiwan due to the perception he is too close to China, and the WHO’s listing of Taiwan’s virus case numbers under China’s, despite it being separately governed.

US President Donald Trump sharply criticised the WHO on Tuesday, accusing it of being too focused on China and issuing bad advice during the coronavirus outbreak.