Chinese fighter jets “buzzed” two Canadian naval ships as they sailed through the East China Sea this week, Canadian military authorities confirmed on Thursday.
The incident occurred on Monday afternoon when two Su-30 warplanes flew within 300 meters of the frigate HMCS Regina and MV Asterix, around 30 meters above the ocean surface, the military said in a statement. A laser emanating from a nearby fishing boat also targeted a Canadian navy helicopter, they 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,” said Canadian military spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier. “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,” he continued. “Nothing in the interactions between vessels or radio communications was unsafe or unprofessional.”
Both ships had just completed a visit to Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay and were destined to Northeast Asia to join a multinational effort to prevent goods smuggling into North Korea.
“This was not a dangerous scenario but it is one that we certainly paid close attention to,” Regina’s captain, Cmdr. Jake French, told the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “I will not characterize their intent, but we have seen a lot of ‘fast air’ over the past week flying from where many of their bases are.
“It is normal for air forces to check foreign navies operating in their backyard,” he continued. “Seeing the proximity of Chinese forces is part of the business. This is what militaries do.”
The incident comes at a time of heightened tensions between the two countries after Canadian authorities arrested Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou last December on a U.S. arrest warrant. Beijing has since arrested two Canadian nationals, sentenced another to death for drug smuggling, and even classified Canadian canola and pork imports as “unsafe,” all in acts of apparent retaliation.
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang on Thursday acknowledged the incident but would not be drawn on specifics. “We were clear about the transit of Canadian vessels through the Taiwan Strait and monitored the vessels for the whole process,” he said.
State-run propaganda outlet Global Times seemingly mocked the incident, writing on the Chinese social media site Weibo: “The Canadian ships have received a warm welcome from our people’s navy and air force.”
During the G20 summit on Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping to discuss the ongoing tensions. The meeting involved “brief, constructive interactions,” according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.