According to Canada’s Global News, senior officials in the government have growing concern over Chinese pilots’ recklessly escalating hostility in the Asia-Pacific region.
According to sources of Canadian forces and the federal government, Chinese jets often “buzz” Canadian surveillance planes in the United Nations’ mission in international waters.
It’s revealed that a Canadian CP-140 Aurora plane taking part in Operation Neon, a part of the U.N. surveillance mission in North Korea, was continuously disturbed by Chinese fighter jets. Canadian researchers pointed out that a close approach at high speed can lead to a crash disaster.
As the article reported, various squadrons use the Royal Canadian Air Force’s CP-140 Aurora anti-submarine plane, and its surveillance mission is to prevent North Korea from developing weapons of mass destruction.
The source pointed out that Chinese fighter jets often fly at a distance of 20 to 100 feet from the Canadian planes, so close that Canadian pilots can see the Chinese pilot’s middle finger pointing towards them. Since Christmas, there have been more than 60 such approaches, more than 20 of which are considered very dangerous.
The Canadian Department of National Defense confirmed details of the incident to Global News. A spokesperson said it was “of concern and of increasing frequency.”
The Canadian government filed a diplomatic protest with Beijing, but received no response.
Charles Burton, a senior member at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, said, “(That distance is) scary close at those high speeds, and it could lead to disaster in a crash. You do it too much, and eventually, sometime, it’s going to go wrong.”
Bruton added, worrying for the safety of the pilots, “I’m completely puzzled as to why China would take the risk of fomenting an international incident that could lead to extremely heightened tensions if the Chinese aircraft leads to loss of Canadian life.”
“And the fact the Chinese government is not responding to Canadian concerns, (not) seeking to rein in this kind of adventurism, is also very concerning.”
The Canadian Department of National Defense spokesperson said, “In some instances, the (Canadian) air crew 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.”
In recent years, some close encounters have occurred between Chinese and foreign military aircraft.
The latest incident took place in March when the U.S. Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet at least once had close contact with China’s J-20 stealth fighter aircraft over the East China Sea, according to SCMP.
A US Navy P-3C Orion surveillance plane and a Chinese military surveillance plane flew 305 meters apart over the South China Sea in 2017, according to SCMP.
The worst incident occurred in April 2001 when a Chinese F-8 fighter jet collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries II surveillance plane in the South China Sea, killing one Chinese pilot. According to the Washington Post, the U.S. plane had to make an emergency landing on China’s Hainan island, and the 24 crew members were detained for 11 days before being released.
Toronto Star cited military aviation historian Mike Bechthold saying that the practice of shadowing an enemy aircraft has appeared for a long time. Still, there was an unwritten code that they would not come close to endangering other aircraft.
“That famous scene from Top Gun, where they fly canopy to canopy and give the bird? That’s not normal,” he said.
In some cases, a close approach might be to check the enemy pilots’ readiness and response. In other cases, the goal might be to get enemy planes to turn on their radars and targeting devices to understand their enemies’ capabilities.
The specific reason for China’s aggressive behavior is unknown.
It could be related to the deterioration in the Canada-China relationship, or it could be a territorial issue.
Bechthold said: “The Chinese have been very aggressive at extending their claims over the waters in that part of the world. They’re considering the South China Sea as their personal national domain. They’ve been building all those islands to sort of back up their claims, making it into Chinese territorial waters.”
Relations between Canada and China have been strained after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive of Chinese telecommunications company Huawei in 2018 on a U.S. request. China retaliated by arresting two Canadian citizens, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.
Two Canadians were released last September (in 2021) after Meng had been allowed to return to China. Relations between the two countries turned sour last month after Canada had banned Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese telecommunications company, from participating in its 5G networks’ development.
China has also increased its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region over the past two years, particularly around Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory. It has increased its (military) drills and exercises around the island, and confirmed on June 1 (local time) that it has conducted a combat “readiness patrol” in the sea and air in recent days.
Hong Kong’s SCMP reported that the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) Eastern Theater Command said its combat “readiness patrols” in the air and sea territories near Taiwan this week is a “necessary action” against US-Taiwan collusion activities.
On Monday (May 30), Taiwan said it had recorded 30 sorties by PLA jets, including the rare jet fighter Su-35 and nine types of jets, which have the most extensive range of activities since Taiwan began publishing information about PLA patrols in September 2020.