Canada’s Defence Minister Bill Blair says that two dangerous intercepts took place involving Chinese fighter jets and a Canadian Cyclone helicopter on Oct. 29, including flares deployed in the path of the helicopter.
The intercepts took place near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, “well outside of the territorial limits of both China or any other countries,” Blair said, and while the Canadian helicopter was conducting routine exercises in the region.
The CH-148 Cyclone helicopter had taken off from the HMCS Ottawa, which the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) says is deployed in the region as part of Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy.
The CAF says that the first encounter with the jets was deemed safe, but two subsequent encounters were not.
In the first encounter, a J-11 Chinese fighter jet flew over the Canadian helicopter. One flyover took place with “little separation” and caused the helicopter to experience turbulence, the military said.
Later that same day, the CAF says that the same helicopter was intercepted by another J-11 jet, which launched flares directly into the helicopter’s path. The pilot was forced to manoeuvre to avoid the flares and prevent one from entering the aircraft’s rotor or air intakes.
The helicopter was not damaged in either incident and all crew are safe.
Blair says Canada has had diplomatic communications with China to raise concerns.
“Just to be very clear, the HMCS Ottawa and our helicopter were in international waters,” Blair told reporters prior to question period.
“One of our responsibilities, working with our allies as part of the Indo-Pacific strategy, is to maintain that freedom of navigation in international waterways. We were there doing our job.”
Blair added that while intercepts can be routine, it is expected that all parties involved conduct this type of activity in a safe and professional manner.
The CAF deems intercepts unsafe when there are actions that put an aircraft in danger or force the pilot to make manoeuvres to avoid a collision.
This comes after Chinese aircraft conducted an “aggressive intercept” of another Canadian plane in the region on Oct. 16, while a Global News crew was on board. The Canadian plane was conducting a mission as part of Operation NEON, helping enforce sanctions against North Korea.
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.
“It’s a ramp-up of the aggressiveness that’s really unexpected and unnecessary in the context of the mission that we’re flying,” Maj.-Gen Iain Huddleston said at the time.
Earlier this year, 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, the latest aggressive military move from Beijing in the South China Sea.
Global News had also 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 that HMCS Montreal’s commander, Capt. Paul Mountford, called “not professional.”
When the Chinese vessel altered its course, Mountford said the crew called the American ship and told them to move or there would be a collision. The Americans responded by asking the Chinese to stay clear of the ship, but the Chung-Hoon ultimately needed to alter course and slow down to avoid a crash.