Foreign affairs minister concerned by close calls between Chinese, Canadian aircraft

·3 min read

QUEBEC — Chinese jets have endangered a Canadian military plane operating in Asia, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Thursday, adding that she would raise the issue with her Chinese counterpart.

Joly was reacting to reports by the Canadian Armed Forces, who said Wednesday that on several occasions the People's Liberation Army Air Force failed to meet international aviation safety standards by flying dangerously close to the Canadian aircraft.

“I am extremely concerned that there have been incidents in this region of the world," Joly told a news conference at the Citadelle in Quebec City, where she met with her counterparts from the Baltic region. She said "it is certain" she will raise the issue with Chinese officials.

The Armed Forces said the "interactions" between Chinese and Canadian aircraft in international airspace near North Korea "are not professional" and they "endanger the security of our personnel."

"The aircrews in several (Chinese) aircraft are very clearly visible as they approach and attempt to divert our patrol aircraft from their flight path," the Forces said.

"In some instances, the (Royal Canadian Air Force) 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."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is taking the situation very seriously.

"The fact that China would have chosen to do this is extremely troubling," he said in Alberta. "So 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."

Asked if she considered the behaviour of the Chinese air force to be an aggression against Canada, Joly said the behaviour was a "meaningful gesture" and needed to be discussed with her counterpart.

Joly said she spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in April, a first since the arrest of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were released from Chinese custody in September 2021. Canada and other countries maintain Kovrig and Spavor were arbitrarily detained in China in 2018 in retaliation for the RCMP's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a United States extradition warrant.

"Now our goal is to make sure that we have a diplomatic relationship with China, but also be able to discuss difficult subjects," Joly said.

Canada deployed a CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol aircraft from April 26 to May 26 to Japan, as part of Operation NEON, a multinational effort to support the implementation of UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea. The Armed Forces said the incidents occurred several times during that deployment and that the interactions became increasingly frequent.

Joly, during her meeting with government ministers from Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, discussed the Russian invasion of Ukraine, disinformation and food security. Joly said Canada would work with its allies to prevent the conflict from triggering a global energy and food crisis.

She was also questioned by reporters about whether Canada would increase its military presence in Europe. She said Canada has about 1,300 troops in Latvia, adding that there are 3,400 more soldiers in reserve and ready to be deployed if needed.

Joly and the ministers from Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia will be in Toronto on Friday for an armchair discussion hosted by Toronto Metropolitan University.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2022.

Caroline Plante, The Canadian Press

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