China has sailed an aircraft carrier fleet through the Taiwan Strait -- just days after a U.S. warship crossed the waterway -- in an apparent message to the self-ruled island and its allies ahead of the Asian nation's 2020 presidential election.
The fleet was spotted Sunday sailing southbound through the strait, Taiwan’s defense ministry said.
The vessels stayed on China’s side of the waterway, escorting its first entirely home-built aircraft carrier, as U.S. and Japanese ships trailed behind.
The ministry said Taiwan scrambled ships and jets to monitor the still-unnamed carrier and its accompanying fleet, asking its citizens not to worry. Officials didn’t give further details.
The display came less than a week after the USS Chancellorsville, a guided-missile cruiser, transited the Taiwan Strait in a move that likely irked China. It was the U.S. Navy's ninth such transit this year.
China has condemned previous U.S. voyages in the Taiwan Strait, claiming the U.S. was meddling in the China-Taiwan issue.
China has viewed Taiwan as a breakaway province and has passed aircraft carriers into the strait since Taiwan's President Tsai lng-wen took office in 2016. China has resented Tsai for declining to see Taiwan and China as parts of the same country -- and for her improved relations with Washington.
“Beijing is increasingly resorting to coercion and intimidation to advance its strategic objectives, at the expense of other nations,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in Bangkok earlier Sunday, without mentioning the passage of the Chinese carrier.
China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists lost to the Communists and rebased their government on the island 100 miles away.
China’s President Xi Jinping said in January that if a peaceful “reunification” proved impossible, China had the right to use force to secure Taiwan under its rule, Reuters reported.
The transits through the Taiwan Strait came as Chinese officials have cracked down on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, arresting more than 3,000 people since this past June.
Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.