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 has 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.
When the Chinese vessel altered its course, Mountford says 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.
Mountford believes the incident was ”clearly instigated by the Chinese.”
“The fact this was announced over the radio prior to doing it, clearly indicated this was intentional.”
The Chung-Hoon and Montreal have been sailing together in the South China Sea for nearly a week prior to entering the Taiwan Strait. Global News has seen Chinese warships shadowing the Canadian vessel on multiple occasions during its transit.
The Chinese did not attempt a similar manoeuvre on HMCS Montreal but one of the two warships that were in the area did sail within 1,000 yards of the Canadian ship, a distance that Mountford believed was safe.
The Chinese told both the Canadian and American ships over radio systems that they are entering Chinese territory, despite the joint mission taking place in internationally recognized waters, according to Mountford.
“I am hoping that is an isolated incident that won’t happen again for us, because we have international law on our side,” Mountford told Global News. “This is international waters.”
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) said in a statement released Saturday the Chinese warship “executed maneuvers in an unsafe manner in the vicinity of Chung-Hoon.”
According to USINDOPACOM, the ship overtook the U.S. destroyer on its port side crossing its bow at 150 yards, prompting the Chung-Hoon to maintain course but slow its speed to 10 knots “to avoid a collision.” The Chinese ship then crossed the Chung-Hoon’s bow a second time “starboard to port at 2,000 yards” and remained off the destroyer’s port bow.
“The LY 132’s closest point of approach was 150 yards and its actions violated the maritime ‘Rules of the Road’ of safe passage in international waters,” the statement read.
In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Canada said the Canadian and U.S. ships had “hyped (the sailing) up publicly,” and added that Chinese naval and air forces had been tracking and monitoring both ships “lawfully and professionally.”
“Relevant countries have been deliberately stirring up troubles and risks in the Taiwan Strait, maliciously undermining regional peace and stability and sending wrong signals to the “Taiwan independence” forces,” wrote Jianwei Li, deputy director of the embassy’s cultural and press section.
Jianwei said China would take all necessary measures to “firmly respond to all threats and provocations.”
Canada’s defence minister Anita Anand had just finished participating in a security summit in Singapore when she learned of the incident in the Strait of Taiwan.
The summit was attended by both U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and China’s Defence Minister Li Shangfu.
Anand said neither Canada nor its allies would be deterred from sailing in international waters.
“Canada will continue to sail where international law allows, including the Strait, the South China Sea,” Anand said in an interview from Singapore.
“And really, our overall goal is to increase the peace and stability of this region. And that’s why we are going to continue to see more of Canada in this region as set out in our Indo-Pacific strategy. We’ve already seen unsafe intercepts and we have addressed those appropriately with China in terms of our RCAF pilots. Actors in this region must engage responsibly, and that’s the bottom line.”
— with files from David Akin and Sean Previl, Global News