Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that China’s reported harassment of Canadian aircraft is “irresponsible and provocative” as China’s foreign ministry warned of “severe consequences” for any “risky provocation.”
“They are putting people at risk while at the same time not respecting the decision by the UN to enforce sanctions on North Korea,” Trudeau said in response to a question from Global News’ Mercedes Stephenson during a press conference with Chilean President Gabriel Boric.
Global News first reported, citing multiple government sources, that Chinese jets have repeatedly flown so close to a Canadian surveillance plane in the Asia-Pacific region that Canadian pilots could make eye contact with Chinese pilots, who have sometimes shown their middle fingers.
The Canadian plane was deployed from April 26 to May 26 to watch for fuel transfers at sea that could help North Korea evade UN sanctions against its missiles and nuclear tests. Chinese ships are suspected of taking part in the transfers.
Trudeau said Monday that Canada is participating in a UN mission to make sure sanctions against North Korea are properly enforced. The U.S. and Japan have also participated in the surveillance.
The prime minister’s comments come after China issued a warning to Canada on Monday in response to the mission.
“The UN Security Council has never authorized any country to carry out military surveillance in the seas and airspace of other countries in the name of enforcing sanctions,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a media briefing.
Chinese aircraft had sometimes forced Canadian planes to divert from their flight paths, Canada’s military said last week.
Trudeau previously said Thursday of last week that his government will address reports of the Chinese fighter jets “buzzing” Canadian planes over international waters directly with Chinese officials.
“The fact that China would have chosen to do this is extremely troubling, so we will be bringing it up directly with Chinese officials and (government) counterparts and ensuring that this doesn’t continue to be part of an escalatory pattern,” he said.
Wu Qian, a defence ministry spokesman, said the Chinese military took reasonable measures to deal with Canada’s actions and have made “solemn representations” via diplomatic channels.
China’s defence ministry said in a statement that Canadian military jets have stepped up reconnaissance and “provocations” against China “under the pretext” of implementing UN Security Council resolutions, endangering China’s national security.
Australia also reported Saturday that Chinese fighter planes had intercepted one of its aircraft in the South China Sea region during a routine surveillance activity by Australia in international airspace.
The intercept resulted in a “dangerous maneuver” causing a safety threat to the aircraft and its crew on May 26, the country’s department of security said.
An Australian defence spokesperson confirmed to Global News that flares were deployed into the plane’s path, and the Australian government says it has raised concerns about the interception to the Chinese government.
China claims numerous small islands and reefs in the South China Sea, and says the area around these outcroppings are its territorial waters and airspace.
— with files from Reuters, The Canadian Press and Sean Boynton