A Chinese military plane buzzed a Canadian surveillance aircraft, flying too close and using "inappropriate language," according to a Wednesday statement by Canada's top military commander.
The Canadian CP-140 Aurura, which has since returned home, was monitoring UN sanctions in international airspace off of North Korea in October when the Chinese plane harassed it as part of "a pattern of behavior that's inappropriate," revealed Canada's Chief of the Defense Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance during a year-end interview with CBC News.
"We have been interfered with on our flights in the area and been challenged inappropriately in international airspace," said Vance. He did not elaborate on the inappropriate language.
Vance referred questions about the specifics to National Defence officials, who were less than forthcoming.
They conceded having "contact with the Chinese Air Force operating" near North Korea and insisted that "at no time were our crews or aircraft put at risk." -CBC
Part of a pattern
Similar incidents have been reported by Japan, Australia and New Zealand, according to the CBC.
The Canadians have come across the Chinese air force on 18 occasions over 12 missions in October. Of those, four had zero interactions with the Chinese, one had a single interaction, while seven had "multiple interactions," according to a statement from Canadian National Defense.
Some in the diplomatic community, speaking on background Wednesday, said they see the incidents as China attempting to remind the West that they're in a region that is very sensitive to them — one where they are the predominant power.
The badgering involving the Canadian patrol aircraft happened before the recent spike in tension over Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei — including the arrest in Vancouver of a top company executive, Meng Wanzhou, 46, and the detention of three Canadian citizens in China.
Canadian warship HMCS Calgary and the supply ship MV Asterix recently returned to Esquimalt, B.C. from sanction enforcement patrols in the North Korea region. -CBC
According to Vance, the Canadian crews "did not face overt interference, but it's made very clear to anybody that's in that region that you're in China." The recent sanctions-related provocations undermines the freedom of navigation from both the sea and the air, he added.
Vance also spoke of a "persistent cyber threat that we are relatively well-poised to counter," which the Canadian military and allies have faced.
Vance also noted that Beijing's provocations with Canada have important impilications when it comes to China's interest in the Arctic. Earlier this year, China declared itself a "near-Arctic state," and vowed to build a "Polar Silk Road" along Canada's northern border.
"China attaches great importance to navigation security in the Arctic shipping routes," according to Beijing's Arctic Strategy - published by Chinese state media in January.
Beijing's overall policy, officially known as the 'Belt and Road Initiative', involves plans to open up new trade corridors through the construction of new ports, roads, rail links and trade agreements around the globe.
China has spent tens of billions of dollars on oil and gas projects in Siberia and in waters off Russia. State-owned mining companies have also bought into rich mineral deposits in Greenland. -CBC
That said, China "is not a direct threat to Arctic-state interests and that mutually productive activity is possible," according to a new policy paper by Adam Lajeunesse - a fellow at the Canadian Institute for Global Affairs. Lajeunesse says that the threat from Beijing is being blown out of proportion, and that "the values espoused in the Chinese document — environmental preservation, co-operation, consultation, support for Indigenous communities and science-based policy-making — strike many of the same chords as Canadian policy under the Liberal Party."
Vance echoed that sentiment - saying that he does not see a threat of military confrontation in the Arctic. He still worries about China's intimidation tactics, however, and its willingness to flaunt international rules - as evidenced by the construction of artificial islands in disputed regions of the South China Sea.
"China is a valued trading partner. China is a valued member of the international community," said Vance, adding "China has enormous influence and stakeholdership in that part of the world. We respect that. We all do, but there is another side of the coin. At the same time, we face challenges."