China has sailed a carrier group into the sensitive Taiwan Strait led by its first domestically built aircraft carrier as election campaigning kicked into high gear on the self-ruled island on Sunday. Taiwan's foreign minister, Joseph Wu, said they would not be intimidated.
Democratic Taiwan is claimed by China as a wayward province and is the Communist Party's most sensitive and important territorial issue. China has threatened to attack if Taiwan moves towards independence.
Taiwan's defense ministry announced the sailing in the strait just hours after President Tsai Ing-wen named as her running mate for 2020 elections a former premier who angered Beijing so badly last year with his support for Taiwan's formal independence that a major Chinese paper called for his arrest.
The Chinese carrier group had sailed in a southerly direction through the Taiwan Strait, trailed by US and Japanese ships, Taiwan's defense ministry said in its short statement without giving details on exactly when it happened.
The island scrambled ships and aircraft to monitor the group and ensure national security and safeguarding of regional peace and stability, it added.
The still-unnamed carrier was launched last year, but Chinese military experts have told state media it is not expected to enter service until 2020, once it has been fully kitted out and armed.
A Japan Self Defense Forces spokesman said he had no information about the movement of the Chinese carrier or any Japanese ships nearby.
Speaking earlier in the day in Bangkok, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper slammed China's behavior broadly during defense talks with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.
Beijing is increasingly resorting to coercion and intimidation to advance its strategic objectives, at the expense of other nations, Esper said, without mentioning the Chinese carrier passage.
Taiwan's Wu said China was intending to intervene in their elections, just as Tsai had named her running mate, Lai, and the campaign shifts into high gear.
Voters won't be intimidated! They'll say NO to China at the ballot box, he tweeted.
China's influential Global Times tabloid said China should issue an international arrest warrant for Lai to face prosecution under the country's 2005 Anti-Secession Law.
Accepting Tsai's nomination, Lai made no mention of independence, but said the island had to stand up to pressure from an encroaching China and show the way for Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, which has seen months of anti-government protests.