Canada accuses Chinese air force of nearly causing collisions

Canada’s military has accused Chinese air force pilots of unprofessional and risky behaviour during recent encounters with Canadian planes in international airspace.

The Canadian aircraft were deployed in Japan as part of a multinational effort to enforce UN sanctions against North Korea, which has faced international penalties over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles programme.

The Canadian armed forces said on Wednesday that the People’s Liberation Army air force “did not adhere to international air safety norms” on several occasions.

“These interactions are unprofessional and/or put the safety of the [Royal Canadian air force] personnel at risk.”

In some instances, the Canadian crew had to quickly modify their flight path to “avoid a potential collision with the intercepting aircraft”, the statement said.

And at times Chinese planes tried to divert Canadian aircraft from their flight path and flew so close that the crew was “very clearly visible”.

The statement said such interactions in international airspace during UN-sanctioned missions were becoming more frequent, adding that “these occurrences have also been addressed through diplomatic channels”.

The foreign minister, Melanie Joly, said she was “extremely concerned” about these incidents, coming less than six weeks after Ottawa and Beijing resumed meaningful diplomatic dealings.

Bilateral relations had soured after the December 2018 arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a US warrant in Vancouver, and Beijing’s detention of two Canadians – former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor – in apparent retaliation.

All three were released in September 2021 after Meng reached a deal with US prosecutors on the fraud charges, ending her extradition fight.

US intelligence has said that North Korea appears to be preparing its first nuclear test since 2017.

The US last week forced a vote at the UN security council on toughening sanctions after North Korea carried out a series of rocket launches including, according to US and South Korean officials, one of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The US said the test was a brazen violation of a unanimous UN resolution in 2017 that warned of further consequences for tests of long-range missiles or nuclear weapons.

But China, North Korea’s main ally, and Russia, whose relations with the west have deteriorated sharply over its Ukraine invasion, both vetoed the resolution, saying that new sanctions would be counterproductive and raise tensions.

In June 2019, two Canadian naval vessels were “buzzed” by Chinese fighter jets when they sailed through the East China Sea. The ships had been shadowed by several Chinese vessels and aircraft as they transited.

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