Navy says Chinese fly-by of Canadian warships 'not provocative'
The Royal Canadian Navy is downplaying a near-miss encounter this week after two Chinese warplanes flew within metres of two B.C.-based naval vessels.
At approximately 3:30 p.m. local time Monday, two Su-30 fighter jets from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force buzzed the Esquimalt-based frigate HMCS Regina and resupply ship Asterix in the East China Sea.
The fighters came within 300 metres of the vessels at a height of 100 feet, according to the Navy.
The Canadian vessels had already been followed by Chinese warships and aircraft during their transit from Vietnam to Japan earlier this month, but the Navy says Monday's fly-by was the closest that any of them had come to the Regina.
Navy spokesperson Maj. Mark Gough said Thursday the Chinese encounter was "not provocative, hazardous, or unexpected," given the vessels' proximity to China in the contested waters of the Taiwan Strait.
The encounter comes amid heightened tensions between the two countries, stemming from the December imprisonment of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver and spilling over into an ongoing agricultural trade dispute.
It also comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was preparing to attend a G20 leaders' summit in Japan this week, where he is expected to rely on U.S. President Donald Trump to address the plight of two detained Canadians during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The Department of National Defence says the Regina and Asterix were travelling in international waters when the fly-by occurred.
Both ships are in the region as Canada engages in Operation Neon, an international effort to enforce trade sanctions against North Korea.
The Defence department maintains that the Canadian warships' presence in the strait was not intended to send a message to China, but rather was the most convenient route for the two ships to take.
"HMCS Regina was using the Strait of Taiwan as it was the most direct path to our operations in Northeast Asia from the South China Sea," said Gough.
Back at CFB Esquimalt, outgoing base commander Capt. Jason Boyd minimized the significance of the encounter Thursday, just moments after handing over authority of the base and its assets to Capt. Sam Sader during a change of command ceremony.
"They're operating in the South China Sea so interactions with those neighbouring nations are bound to happen and that's what Regina is out there to do," Boyd said.
"It's to be expected that if you're operating in that region, you're probably going to get paid a visit by the nations that are around that area – no different than if they were operating around us, we'd probably go say hello to them."
Operation Neon was first announced in a statement from the Prime Minister's Office on April 28, following a meeting between Justin Trudeau and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.