On Saturday, China’s defense ministry expressed its disapproval of Canada for compromising Beijing’s “sovereignty and security” due to the proximity of a helicopter flight to its claimed region in the South China Sea.
This incident occurred just one day after Canada’s defense minister accused Chinese military aircraft of approaching a Canadian helicopter over international waters in the South China Sea and deploying flares in its vicinity.
China asserted that a Canadian military helicopter, whose intentions were unclear, had breached both Chinese and international laws in the South China Sea. A ministry spokesperson stated in a release that this action endangered China’s sovereignty and security, characterizing it as a “malicious” and “provocative” act driven by undisclosed motives.
Canada’s Side of the Story
On October 29, as reported by Canada’s Defense Minister Bill Blair, a Chinese aircraft passed over a Canadian helicopter, resulting in substantial turbulence for the helicopter. Later in the day, a different jet deployed flares directly in the path of the helicopter, compelling it to take evasive action to avoid a potential collision.
Speaking to reporters, he emphasized that these actions by Chinese jets had needlessly jeopardized the safety of all personnel involved. He stated that Ottawa viewed the recent conduct of Chinese aircraft as highly unsafe.
The helicopter and HMCS Ottawa were situated in the South China Sea as part of joint efforts with the United States and allied nations to assert the “freedom of navigation” principles, thereby reaffirming the international status of the region as open waters.
China has exhibited a history of assertiveness in the South China Sea by deploying numerous vessels and aircraft to the region.
China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea
The growing concern for Washington and its regional allies stems from China’s assertive actions in the South China Sea, which involve the deployment of numerous vessels and aircraft. These actions have resulted in recent confrontations with ships from the Philippines and Vietnam.
During mid-October, a Chinese aircraft approached within five meters (16 feet) of a Canadian surveillance plane engaged in a UN mission to enforce sanctions against North Korea. Beijing contended that the Canadian plane had infringed upon China’s sovereignty.
In May, the Pentagon reported that a Chinese fighter jet conducted an “unnecessarily aggressive” maneuver in international airspace over the South China Sea near a US military aircraft. This incident was part of what Washington has described as a recent pattern of escalating and hazardous conduct by Chinese military aircraft.
In recent times, Washington has leveled accusations against Beijing, alleging a “concerted” effort to engage in perilous and provocative air force maneuvers aimed at US military planes operating in international airspace within the region. Such actions have raised concerns about the potential for unintended conflict between the two nations.