Canadian warship gets 'warm welcome' from fighter jets, Chinese media say

Chinese newspaper: Ship received 'warm welcome'

By Brad Lendon, CNN
Chinese People's Liberation Army

China unveiled a set of photos of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s Su-30MKK fighter jets' first training in the new year on Jan. 6, 2019.

(CNN) - Two Chinese fighter jets buzzed a Canadian warship in the East China Sea earlier this week in what Chinese media called a "warm welcome."

The incident between the frigate HMCS Regina and two Chinese Su-30 fighters took place Monday while the ship was in international waters off Shanghai, according to Matthew Fisher, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

"The formidable twin-tail Russian-built strike aircraft flew within 300 meters (1,000 feet) of the Canadian ship's bow, screaming past about 300 meters above the water," Fisher wrote in a posting on the institute's website.

The Regina's captain told Fisher the Chinese jets didn't pose a danger to his ship, but Fisher's report said their flight was more aggressive than anything the (Canadian Navy) has seen before from Chinese fighter jets. CNN has reached out to the Canadian Defense Ministry for further comment.

Chinese aircraft and ships had been watching the Canadian warship, and an accompanying replenishment ship, closely after it ended a visit to Vietnam and traveled through the South China Sea, Taiwan Strait and East China Sea, Fisher reported.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang on Thursday acknowledged the presence of the Canadian ships.

"We were clear about the transit of Canadian vessels through the Taiwan Strait and monitored the vessels for the whole process," Ren said.

However, the Chinese state-owned Global Times newspaper put out a post on its official Weibo account Thursday, seemingly mocking the encounter: "The Canadian ships have received a warm welcome from our people's navy and air force," said the post.

Before the buzzing Monday, the closest Chinese jets had come to the Regina was several kilometers, according to Fisher.

Canada is just one of several US allies and partners, including France, Japan and the United Kingdom, that have been sending ships into the South China Sea or through the Taiwan Strait this year.

At the Shangri-La Dialogue security conference in Singapore earlier this month, then-acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan encouraged other countries to conduct such activities to demonstrate a commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

Beijing claims almost the entire 1.3 million square mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory and aggressively asserts its stake, with President Xi Jinping saying it will never give up "any inch of territory."

The flyby of the Canadian warship comes during a time of heightened tensions between Canada and China, following the arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada in December 2018.

Meng faces extradition to the US over allegations she helped Huawei evade US sanctions on Iran. The Chinese government claims the arrest is politically motivated and is trying stop the extradition from happening.

Shortly after Meng's detention, two Canadians were taken into custody in China, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor.

Both were formally arrested in May, accused of gathering and stealing "sensitive information and other intelligence" since 2017. Separately, Canadian man Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, who had previously been found guilty of trafficking drugs to China, was rapidly retried in January and sentenced to death.

The Canadian government has joined with human rights organizations to call for the release of Kovrig and Spavor, describing their detentions as "arbitrary."

CNN's Lily Lee and Ben Wescott contributed to this report.

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