Politics

Chinese jets buzzed Canadian naval ships in East China Sea

Two Chinese fighter jets buzzed a Canadian warship and supply vessel operating in international waters in the East China Sea earlier this week, the Department of National Defence has confirmed.

It was the Canadian navy's closest encounter with Chinese military assets this month

Two J-20 stealth fighter jets of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force perform during last year's China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition. Two PLA Su-30 warplanes buzzed a Canadian warship and a supply vessel in the East China Sea earlier this week, Ottawa has confirmed. (Kin Cheung/The Associated Press)

Two Chinese fighter jets buzzed a Canadian warship and a supply vessel operating in international waters in the East China Sea earlier this week, the Department of National Defence has confirmed.

On Monday afternoon, local time, a pair of Su-30 warplanes rocketed within 300 metres of the frigate HMCS Regina and MV Asterix, flying about 30 metres above the ocean surface.

A DND statement on Thursday said that while People's Liberation Army vessels and aircraft have followed the Canadian ships since they left Vietnam earlier this month, this latest incident with the fighter jets was their closest encounter to date.

"This particular fly-past by the two PLA aircraft was not provocative, hazardous or unexpected, given the proximity of the Operation Neon operating area to China," said spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier in an email. Operation Neon is the recently announced commitment by the Liberal government to regularly rotate warships in and out of the Far East as part of the United Nations' enforcement of sanctions on North Korea.

"During her deployment, HMCS Regina was shadowed by a number of different ships and saw aircraft while in the East China Sea," said Le Bouthillier.

"The Chinese and Taiwanese forces that were seen nearby during our transit were not unexpected — they are known to be present in the strait. Nothing in the interactions between vessels or radio communications was unsafe or unprofessional."

The military also reported that someone on board a Chinese fishing boat pointed a laser at a Canadian CH-148 Cyclone helicopter operating near the Strait of Taiwan recently. No one was injured in that incident and there no was damage to the aircraft.

HMCS Regina cruises in the Huangpu River in Shanghai, China, Tuesday Aug. 15, 2006. (The Canadian Press)

It is unclear whether fishing vessel was part of the People's Armed Forces Maritime Militia, which operates a host of civilian vessels in both the East China Sea and the South China Sea.

Earlier this month, HMCS Regina transited through the strategically sensitive Strait of Taiwan — a passage that some have described as a political message at a time of heightened political tension between Beijing and Ottawa over the arrest of Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou and Chinese restrictions on Canadian exports.

It's not the first time a Canadian warship has passed through the contested waters, however. HMCS Calgary made the same trip in October 2018.

Monday's incident also isn't the first time the Chinese air force has harassed the Canadian military as it carries out sanctions enforcement on North Korea.

The country's top military commander, in an interview with CBC News last year, revealed that a CP-140 maritime patrol plane was buzzed by Chinese fighter jets as it monitored the sea lanes for cargo ships and tankers intent on violating the North Korean embargoes.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff, said the surveillance aircraft was interfered with in international airspace.

The jets flew too close to the sophisticated maritime patrol plane, used improper radio procedure and "inappropriate language," he said.

At the time, the defence department insisted the aircrew were not at risk.

Japan, Australia and New Zealand also have conducted similar enforcement patrols and have experienced similar harassment.