“They became very aggressive and to a degree we would deem it unsafe and unprofessional,” Maj.-Gen. Iain Huddleston told Global News.
Global News was on board the Canadian military aircraft reporting on the mission, which is part of Operation NEON, Canada’s contribution to helping enforce sanctions against North Korea, when the aggressive intercepts took place.
“It’s a ramp-up of the aggressiveness that’s really unexpected and unnecessary in the context of the mission that we’re flying,” Huddleston said.
At least two different Chinese jets intercepted the Canadian plane consistently for multiple hours during the more than eight-hour-long mission. The Chinese jets came within about five metres of the Canadian plane.
Most of the intercepts were done in a manner CAF members told Global News they deemed professional. But the last jet, which was armed with air-to-air missiles, was aggressively flying back and forth in close proximity while appearing to put the Canadian plane in its blind spot, according to military descriptions and descriptions from Global News crew on the flight.
“I’m concerned when they do that. There’s a heightened risk to those sorts of interactions and we’d like to avoid those as much as we can. We record these things up through the chain with the evidence we gather and then allow our diplomatic agencies to become involved,” Huddleston said.
The Chinese jet also launched multiple firework-like flares near the Canadian aircraft. These aggressive intercepts took place shortly after the crew lost contact with their base due to an apparent communications glitch with the equipment.
The 13-member crew on board the Canadian mission is tasked with helping to stop illegal oil shipments to North Korea. During this mission, senior CAF members said the crew identified a listed “vessel of interest.”
“We’re here enforcing a United Nations resolution. We are not here acting against the Chinese. We don’t want to have anything untoward happen that would result in loss of life,” Huddleston said.
Huddleston said that the reason for the aggressive activity from the Chinese jets is unknown and that the Canadian crew remained in international waters, relaying by radio to the Chinese pilots who they were and what they were doing.
The incident comes after a Chinese warship came within 150 yards of hitting American destroyer USS Chung-Hoon during a rare joint Canada-U.S. mission sailing through the Taiwan Strait in June 2023.
Global News had been travelling on HMCS Montreal, the Canadian frigate participating in the mission, since May 25 in the South China Sea and witnessed the near collision from the bridge wing of the ship.
A People’s Liberation Navy ship picked up considerable speed and cut in front of the bow of the Chung-Hoon, a manoeuvre HMCS Montreal’s commander, Capt. Paul Mountford, at the time called “not professional.”
Several months prior to that, Chinese military jets intercepted a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) surveillance plane during Operation Neon.
An official within the department told Global News at the time that there were multiple interceptions, and that they happened “regularly” over the course of the operation.
With files from Global News’ Aaron D’Andrea and Mackenzie Gray.
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