Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has accused China of harassing Canadian military jets in the skies above Asia, calling the situation “extremely troubling,” as he promised to raise the issue with Beijing.
On “several occasions” between April 26 and May 26, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) planes came into close interaction with China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), Canada’s National Defense Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
“In these interactions, PLAAF aircraft did not adhere to international air safety norms. These interactions are unprofessional and/or put the safety of our RCAF personnel at risk,” the statement said.
“In some instances, the RCAF aircrew felt sufficiently at risk that they had to quickly modify their own flight path in order to increase separation and avoid a potential collision with the intercepting aircraft.”
China, which is in the midst of a national holiday, has yet to publicly comment on the events.
Trudeau told reporters on Thursday that he took “this situation very seriously.”
“Canada is an active part of an important mission in the North Pacific to ensure that the sanctions applied to North Korea are properly enforced, and the fact that China would have chosen to do this is extremely troubling,” he said at an event in Alberta.
“We will be bringing it up directly with Chinese officials and counterparts and ensuring that this doesn’t continue to be part of an escalatory pattern.”
Canada said the pilots of China’s planes were “very clearly visible” as they attempted to divert Canada’s jets from their flight path in international airspace.
The mission is part of a U.N. effort to monitor sanctions imposed on North Korea in response to the state’s nuclear weapon tests and ballistic missile launches. The Canadian CP-140 Aurora aircraft, along with crew, are stationed in Japan as part of the mission.
Such aerial interactions, sometimes known as “buzzing,” are “of concern and of increasing frequency,” Canada’s Defense Department said, adding that the occurrences have been “addressed through diplomatic channels.”
Last week, Russia and China flew strategic bombers over the Sea of Japan (also known as the East Sea) and the East China Sea while President Biden was in Tokyo wrapping up his first trip to Asia. It was their first joint military exercise since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, some experts have said the “no limits” diplomatic relationship affirmed between the two countries in recent months is already being tested, with tensions over trade and how much geopolitical support China is willing to give to Russia amid the war.
Ties between Ottawa and Beijing frayed after Canada detained top Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018 at the request of U.S. authorities amid charges of bank and wire fraud. Soon after her arrest, Beijing imprisoned two Canadian men in China — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — in what Western officials termed tit-for-tat “hostage diplomacy.” All three individuals were released last year and returned to their homelands.
Amanda Coletta contributed to this report.