BEIJING/OTTAWA (Reuters) – China’s Defense Ministry said on Thursday that Canadian navy ships sailed through the Strait of Taiwan, which separates self-ruled Taiwan from China, an act that could inflame already bad bilateral relations.
Such passages upset China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory. In April, Beijing condemned a French decision to send a frigate through the Strait as illegal.
China this week blocked all imports of Canadian meat as a diplomatic and trade dispute with Ottawa deepens. China is demanding Canada release a senior telecommunications executive who was arrested last December on a U.S. warrant.
The Canadian defense ministry acknowledged that two of its ships had used the passage last week but denied that Canada was trying to make any kind of political point.
The route taken by the ships was the shortest one between Vietnam – where they had paid a visit – and the seas near North Korea, where Canada is helping stamp out maritime smuggling, the ministry said.
“Transit through the Taiwan Strait is not related to making any statement,” spokeswoman Ashley Lemire said in an email. She noted that a Canadian military vessel had passed through the Strait in October 2018.
A Canadian reporter aboard one of the ships said that at one point, two Chinese fighter jets made a low-level pass within 300 meters (yards) of the two ships. Lemire said she could not immediately confirm the incident.
“The Chinese and Taiwanese forces that were seen nearby during our transit were not unexpected …nothing in the interaction between vessels or radio communications was unsafe or unprofessional,” she added.
Reporting by Huizhong Wu and Ben Blanchard in Beijing and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alistair Bell