Canadian navy ships in East China Sea ‘buzzed’ by Chinese warplanes

A Canadian navy ship sailing near the Black Sea port of Odessa, Ukraine, in April 2019.
A Canadian navy ship sailing near the Black Sea port of Odessa, Ukraine, in April 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING/OTTAWA (REUTERS, AFP) - Two Canadian naval vessels were “buzzed” by Chinese fighter jets when they sailed through the East China Sea this week, the Canadian military said on Thursday (June 27).

A Canadian navy helicopter was also targeted by a laser detected from a nearby fishing boat, it said in a statement. 

There were no injuries nor damage, but the revelations come amid heightened tensions between the two nations over Canada’s arrest of a senior telecoms executive last December and China’s detention of two Canadian nationals in apparent retaliation.  

Canada’s defence ministry said the frigate HMCS Regina and support vessel Asterix were in “international waters in the East China Sea” when two Chinese Su-30 fighter jets “passed the ship at a range of approximately 300m and an altitude of approximately 30m.”

The so-called “buzzing” happened on Monday at around 3.30pm local time, it said. 

The ships had been shadowed by several Chinese vessels and aircraft as they transited through the maritime region. 

Ottawa described the interactions as “professional and cordial”, adding that the Chinese fly-past was “not hazardous, nor unexpected”, given the naval operation’s proximity to China. 

Both ships had just come from a visit to Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay and were headed to North-east Asia to join a multinational effort to prevent smuggling, in evasion of UN sanctions against North Korea. 

Earlier on Thursday, China's Defence Ministry said Canadian navy ships sailed through the Strait of Taiwan, which separates self-ruled Taiwan from China. Such passages upset China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory.

The Canadian Defence Ministry acknowledged that two of its ships had used the passage last week but denied that Canada was trying to make any kind of political point.

The route taken by the ships was the shortest one between Vietnam - where they had paid a visit - and the seas near North Korea, where Canada is helping stamp out maritime smuggling, the ministry said.

"Transit through the Taiwan Strait is not related to making any statement," spokesman Ashley Lemire said in an e-mail.

She noted that a Canadian military vessel had passed through the Strait in October 2018.

At one point in the latest incident, two Chinese fighter jets made a low-level pass within 300m of one of the two ships when it was in international waters, the ministry said.

"This particular fly past... was not provocative, hazardous, or unexpected," the ministry said in a statement, noting the ship had been close to Chinese waters.

 
 

In April, Beijing condemned a French decision to send a frigate through the Strait as illegal.

Relations between China and Canada deteriorated since December when police in Vancouver detained Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on a US arrest warrant.

Days later, China arrested two Canadians – former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor – in what is widely seen as a tit-for-tat move.

China this week blocked all imports of Canadian meat as the diplomatic and trade dispute with Ottawa deepens.

Leaders of the two nations, both in Japan for G-20 talks this week, have not spoken since.