Speaking to Mercedes Stephenson on The West Block, Norman — a 39-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Navy and its former commander — said the Chinese captain “knew exactly what he was doing.”
“This was not an accident,” he said.
Global News reported on Saturday that a Chinese warship came within 150 yards of hitting the American destroyer USS Chung-Hoon, an incident exclusively caught on film and seen first-hand by Global News reporter Mackenzie Gray.
Gray was aboard HMCS Montreal, which was slightly behind the American ship. HMCS Montreal’s commander, Capt. Paul Mountford, told Global News 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,” Mountford said on Saturday.
The video shows the Chinese ship steering directly in front of the Chung-Hoon, coming in from the left. To avoid a collision, the American ship slowed down and had to change course slightly.
Norman said China does such manoeuvring because it wants to send a message and that such a practice was seen in the Cold War from the Russians.
“The Chinese have taken this right out of the Russian playbook,” Norman said. “They’re bullying and provoking reactions to say that these are their waters and that we shouldn’t be there.”
The incident took place in international waters, where the stakes are high given renewed tensions between China and Taiwan, a self-governing democracy Beijing has laid claim on.
“It’s important that we be able to demonstrate that they do not control those waters, they are not Chinese waters,” Norman added, noting that doing so has “deeper implications in terms of the sovereignty of Taiwan.”
Since it happened, China’s defence minister, Gen. Li Shangfu, said in a gathering in Singapore of some of the world’s top defence officials — including U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin — that China doesn’t have a problem with “innocent passage.”
However, Shangfu said that “we must prevent attempts that try to use those freedom of navigation (patrols), that innocent passage, to exercise hegemony of navigation.”
In a statement to Global News, China’s embassy in Canada said that “relevant countries have been deliberately stirring up troubles and risks in the Taiwan Strait, maliciously undermining regional peace and stability.”
Austin told the same forum in Singapore on Saturday that the U.S. would not “flinch in the face of bullying or coercion” from China and would continue regularly sailing through and flying over the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea to emphasize they are international waters.
At that same conference, called the Shangri-La Dialogue, China snubbed a request from the U.S. for Austin and Shangfu to meet, which Austin said is “unfortunate.”
Norman said China’s claim that the Taiwan Strait is its own territorial waters is completely false and is not supported by the international community.
The incident is the latest in a string of aggressive conduct from China in which the country has flown aircraft recklessly close to both Canadian and U.S. planes.
On Wednesday, the U.S. reported another such incident in which a Chinese jet flew in front of an air force plane, causing the cockpit to shake from the turbulence.
Global News reported in late 2022 that there have been around 60 incidents of “buzzing” of Canadian aircraft, some so close that pilots could make eye contact, with some Chinese pilots showing the middle finger.
“Sadly, this is a recurring type of behaviour from the Chinese,” Norman said. “You’re going to provoke an incident and who knows where it goes from there.”
— with files from The Associated Press and Global News’ Mackenzie Gray.