Canada says China harassing its aircraft near North Korea

Canada says pilots put ‘at risk’ by Chinese warplanes on missions to monitor North Korean sanctions evasions.

Chinese military jet standing on tarmac with planes flying on the horizon
Canada has accused China's military of harassing its pilots during North Korea sanctions monitoring flights [File: Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press]

The Canadian military has accused Chinese warplanes of harassing its pilots during United Nations sanctions patrols along the border with North Korea to monitor evasions.

Canadian Armed Forces said in a statement on Wednesday the Chinese planes have at times flown so close they forced Canadian pilots to quickly change course to “avoid a potential collision with the intercepting aircraft”.

It said the incidents occurred between April 26 and May 26.

“In these interactions, PLAAF [People’s Liberation Army Air Force] aircraft did not adhere to international air safety norms,” the statement said. “These interactions are unprofessional and/or put the safety of our RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force] personnel at risk.”

The military added that interactions in international airspace during UN-sanctioned missions were becoming more frequent, adding that “these occurrences have also been addressed through diplomatic channels”.

On Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the reports “extremely troubling” and said his government took the situation “very seriously”.

“Canada is an active part of an important mission in the North Pacific to ensure that the sanctions applied to North Korea are properly enforced and the fact that China would have chosen to do this is extremely troubling,” Trudeau said.

“We will be bringing it up directly with Chinese officials and counterparts and ensuring that this doesn’t continue to be part of an escalatory pattern.”

Beijing, Pyongyang’s biggest ally, did not immediately respond to the allegations, but has said it enforces sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council on North Korea.

Both China and Russia have called for the easing of sanctions against North Korea on humanitarian grounds.

Last week, both China and Russia vetoed a US-led proposal for new sanctions on North Korea. US intelligence has said that North Korea appears to be preparing its first nuclear test since 2017.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a briefing on Wednesday that “under current circumstances, ramping up sanctions won’t help solve the problem.”

Alleged harassment is not the first friction between the Canadian and Chinese militaries.

In June 2019, two Chinese fighter jets flew close to, or “buzzed”, two Canadian warships in international waters in the East China Sea.

The ships had been shadowed by several Chinese vessels and aircraft as they transited through the disputed maritime region.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies