OTTAWA — Defence Minister Anita Anand says Beijing acted irresponsibly on the weekend in the Taiwan Strait, where Washington says a Chinese warship forced a U.S. vessel to avoid a collision near a Canadian frigate.
“China must behave responsibly,” Anand wrote in a Monday statement, hours after the U.S. military released video of what it called an “unsafe” Chinese manoeuvre Saturday.
The American destroyer USS Chung-Hoon and Canadian frigate HMCS Montreal were conducting a so-called “freedom of navigation” transit of the strait between Taiwan and mainland China.
China claims the democratic self-governing island of Taiwan as part of its own territory, and maintains the strait is part of its exclusive economic zone, while the U.S. and its allies regularly sail through and fly over the passage to emphasize their contention that the waters are international.
During the Saturday transit, the Chinese guided-missile destroyer overtook the Chung-Hoon on its port side, then veered across its bow at a distance of 137 metres, according to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
The American destroyer held its course, but reduced speed to 10 knots “to avoid a collision,” the U.S. military said.
The video released Monday shows the Chinese ship cutting across the course of the American one, then straightening out to start sailing in a parallel direction.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the actions violated maritime rules of safe passage in international water.
The Chinese ship did not attempt a similar manoeuvre on the Canadian frigate, which was sailing behind the American destroyer.
Anand says the Canadian ship was undertaking a regular sailthrough to uphold global rules that recognize the Taiwan Strait as international waters.
“We want to make sure that we are doing our best to uphold peace and security in this region, but also to ensure that international rules and norms are recognized,” reads an emailed statement attributed to Anand.
“Canada will continue to sail where international law allows, including the Strait, and the South China Sea. Our overall goal is to increase the peace and stability of this region.”
She said Canada’s military will be more present in the region as part of the Liberals’ Indo-Pacific strategy.
“Actors in this region must engage responsibly, and that’s the bottom line,” she wrote.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin defended the manoeuvre.
“These actions are completely justified, lawful, safe and professional,” he told reporters Monday in Beijing, according to an official translation of his remarks.
“China resolutely opposes the country concerned stirring up trouble in the Taiwan Strait and is firmly determined to defend its sovereignty and security and regional peace and stability,” he said.
“It is the U.S. that should reflect on and correct its wrongdoing.”
The U.S. recently accused China of also performing an “unnecessarily aggressive manoeuvre” in the air, saying a Chinese J-16 fighter jet late last month flew directly in front of the nose of a U.S. air force reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea.
The close-calls have raised concerns of a possible accident that could lead to an escalation between the two countries’ militaries at a time when tensions in the region are already high.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2023.
— With files from The Associated Press
Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press