China war fears: Beijing’s jets 'buzz’ Canadian ships in Taiwan Strait inflaming tensions

The incident, the latest in a series of tense encounters between involving foreign vessels in the region, saw a pair of Su-300 jets fly within 300 metres of the frigate MHCS regina, and MV Asterix, with the planes flying just 30 metres above the ocean’s surface. China’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday that Canadian navy ships sailed through the Strait of Taiwan, which separates self-ruled Taiwan from China, an act that could inflame already bad bilateral relations. Beijing is angered by what it regards as incursions, given the superpower claims Taiwan as part of its territory.

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

A DND statement issued yesterday said People’s Liberation Army vessels and aircraft have followed the Canadian ships since they left Vietnam earlier this month.

However, the statement stressed the latest episode with the fighter jets was their closest encounter to date.

Spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier added: “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.”

Operation Neon is the recently announced Canadian Government commitment to rotate warships in and out of the Far East as part of the United Nations’ enforcement of sanctions on North Korea.

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

”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.”

Another spokeswoman, Ashley Lemire, added: “Transit through the Taiwan Strait is not related to making any statement.”

The military also said somebody on board a Chinese fishing boat had pointed a laser at a Canadian CH-148 Cyclone helicopter operating near the Strait of Taiwan recently. 

Nobody was injured as a result of the incident and there no was damage to the aircraft.

It is unclear whether the fishing vessel was attached to 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.

The incident is not the first time a Canadian warship has passed through the contested waters – HMCS Calgary made the same trip in October 2018.

General Jonathan Vance, Canada’s top military commander, in an interview with CBC News last year, revealed that a CP-140 maritime patrol plane had been similarly “buzzed” by Chinese fighter jets while monitoring the sea lanes for cargo ships and tankers intent on violating the North Korean embargoes.

Mr Vance said the jets had flown too close to the sophisticated maritime patrol plane, used improper radio procedure and “inappropriate language”.

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