China claims the democratic self-governing island of Taiwan as part of its own territory, and similarly claims the strait is part of its exclusive economic zone, while the U.S. and its allies regularly sail through and fly over the passage to emphasize that the waters are international.
In the video released Monday, a Chinese warship can clearly be seen sailing across the path of the Chung-Hoon in calm waters. A voice can be heard in English, apparently sending a radio message to the Chinese ship, warning against “attempts to limit freedom of navigation,” though the exact wording is unclear because of wind noise.
The Chung-Hoon ultimately needed to alter course and slow down to avoid a crash with the ship, which at one point was 150 yards away. The U.S. Navy called the manoeuvre “unsafe.”
The Chinese ship did not attempt a similar manoeuvre on HMCS Montreal, which was sailing behind the American destroyer.
“Chung-Hoon and Montreal’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the combined U.S.-Canadian commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said.
“The U.S. military flies, sails, and operates safely and responsibly anywhere international law allows.”
Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson at the Chinese foreign ministry, said Monday the measures the military took were “completely reasonable, legitimate, and professional and safe.”
“The U.S. had caused trouble and provocation first, while China dealt with it in accordance with the law and regulations afterwards,” Wang said.
The U.S. also recently accused China of performing an “unnecessarily aggressive maneuver” in the air, saying a Chinese J-16 fighter jet late last month flew directly in front of the nose of a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea.
The close calls have raised concerns of a possible accident that could lead to an escalation between the two countries’ militaries at a time when tensions in the region are already high.
The incident in the Taiwan Strait came on a day when Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Chinese Defence Minister Gen. Li Shangfu were in Singapore for an annual defence conference.
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,” she said.
“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.”
She added on Monday that China must “behave responsibly.”
Li on Sunday suggested that the U.S. and its allies have created the danger with their patrols, and was intent on provoking China.
“The best way is for the countries, especially the naval vessels and fighter jets of countries, not to do closing actions around other countries’ territories,” he said through an interpreter.
“What’s the point of going there? In China we always say, ‘Mind your own business.’”
Austin had invited Li to talk on the sidelines of the conference; Li refused.
— with files from Global News’ Mackenzie Gray, Reuters and The Associated Press