China has questioned Canada’s “intentions” behind sending a warship to traverse the Taiwan Strait, amid frosty relations between Beijing and Ottawa, Channel News Asia (CNA) reported.
A Canadian Halifax-class frigate, the HMCS Ottawa, passed through the strategic waterway on Tuesday in a “freedom of navigation” operation, Taiwanese authorities said, the latest such voyage by a Western navy to anger Beijing.
China views any passing through the narrow channel separating Taiwan and the Chinese mainland as a breach of its sovereignty — while the US and many other nations see the route as international space, CNA said.
“The Chinese side does not limit the normal passage of foreign warships through the Taiwan Strait,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing.
“But I don’t know what special intentions the Canadian side has in deliberately making high-profile announcements about its warship (crossing the Taiwan Strait).
“We hope that Canada will demonstrate its respect for China’s sovereignty and security through practical actions.”
According to the Globe & Mail, it was the second time in almost three months, that Canada sailed a warship through the strait that separates China from the self-governed island of Taiwan — a measure seen as a demonstration of support for the United States and other allies who regard the passage as an international corridor rather than Beijing’s internal waters.
The Canadian vessel was shadowed by the Chinese military during its transit, a source at the Department of National Defence said.
Chinese military regards the 180-kilometre-wide Taiwan Strait as internal waters and a strategic waterway, and Beijing has deployed more than 1,500 missiles along its length, the Globe reported.
It regularly conducts military drills in the area and “has sent bombers, fighter jets and its aircraft carrier over and around the strait as shows of force,” according to the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.
Military officials in Canada played down the Taiwan Strait passage, saying HMCS Ottawa plotted this course to shorten sailing time between two assignments, the Globe reported.
“This route was chosen as it was the most direct route between UN Security Council sanctions-monitoring activities in Northeast Asia and engagements in Southeast Asia,” a statement from Canadian Joint Operations Command said.
Canada’s de facto embassy in Taipei said in a statement Monday that sailing through the strait is “the most practical route” between South Korea’s Pyeongtaek and the Thai capital Bangkok.
“The HMCS Ottawa’s current deployment is consistent with past Royal Canadian Navy practice and international law,” it added.
Relations between China and Canada have deteriorated since December when police in Vancouver detained Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on a US arrest warrant over charges of Iran sanctions violations.
Days after her arrest, China detained two Canadians — a former diplomat and a businessman — and later accused them of espionage-related actions in what is seen as a tit-for-tat move.
China has also blocked Canadian agricultural shipments worth billions of dollars.