Taiwan has accused China of attempting to intimidate voters ahead of its 2020 presidential election after Beijing sailed an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday.
The still unnamed aircraft carrier – the first entirely domestically built by China – and accompanying vessels were spotted sailing southbound through the strait, a heavily trafficked strategic waterway separating China from the island of 23 million, said Taiwan’s defence ministry.
The ministry said ships and jets scrambled to monitor the fleet, which stayed on the Chinese side of the waterway. It asked its citizens not to worry and revealed that US and Japanese ships were also following the Chinese ships.
The voyage coincided with an announcement by Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwanese president, naming her running mate, William Lai for the January poll, prompting Taipei to immediately hit back at Beijing’s perceived motivations.
“Just as @iingwen names her running mate & the campaign shifts into high gear, #PLA sends its new 002 aircraft carrier battle group into the #TaiwanStrait. #PRC intends to intervene in #Taiwan's elections. Voters won't be intimidated! They'll say NO to #Chinaat the ballot box,” said Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister on Twitter.
China has ambitions to annex Taiwan, which functions like any other nation with its own currency, military, government and democratic elections.
Beijing has taken a hostile stance towards President Tsai since she came to power in 2016 for her refusal to agree that Taiwan and China are part of the same country, and is suspicious of her close relations with the US.
Taipei has accused Beijing multiple times in the past few months of trying to sway the election – by poaching from its small group of remaining formal diplomatic allies and by switching off lucrative income from Chinese tourists.
China’s display came just a few days after the USS Chancellorsville, a guided missile cruiser, made a similar transit, in a move that likely irked Beijing, which views such voyages as meddling in its affairs with Taiwan.