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China blasts 'malicious' Canada air patrol after latest intercept

BEIJING: China on Saturday (Nov 4) accused Canada of conducting a “malicious and provocative” air patrol over the disputed South China Sea, after Ottawa rebuked Beijing for what it described as a second risky midair intercept in two weeks.

Canada’s Defence Minister Bill Blair said Friday that a Chinese fighter jet twice flew close to a Canadian Cyclone helicopter over the Paracel Islands on Oct 29, firing flares “directly in front” of the craft on the second flyby.

The jet’s actions “were deemed to be significantly unsafe”, Blair said of the incident, which followed a similar near-miss over another disputed waterway near China in mid-October.

Beijing hit back at Blair’s claims on Saturday, with a defence ministry spokesperson saying the Canadian helicopter conducted “a malicious and provocative act with ulterior motives”.

“Recently, ship-borne helicopters on Canada’s HMCS Ottawa made two sorties towards the airspace around China’s Xisha Islands, with unknown intentions,” Zhang Xiaogang said in an online statement, using the Chinese name for the Paracels.

“China’s People’s Liberation Army organised naval and air forces to identify and verify (the craft) in accordance with the law, and issued multiple warnings,” Zhang said.

“However, the Canadian helicopter not only refused to respond, but also took provocative actions such as flying at ultra-low altitudes,” he added.

“Afterwards, (Canada) wantonly hyped the event and made accusations and smears against China in the media,” Zhang claimed.

“Canada’s actions violated China’s domestic laws and international law, endangered China’s sovereignty and security,” he said.

“We urge the Canadian side … to strictly curb the actions of frontline sea and air forces to prevent accidents at sea and in the air.”

The HMCS Ottawa was transiting the South China Sea as part of attempts by the United States and its allies to cement its status as an international waterway.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea – through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually – and has ignored an international court ruling that its assertion has no legal basis.

Beijing has deployed hundreds of vessels and aircraft in the area, some of which have clashed with Philippine and Vietnamese ships.

In mid-October, Chinese fighter jets also buzzed a Canadian Aurora maritime patrol aircraft helping to enforce UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea in response to its nuclear weapons tests and ballistic missile launches.

Blair had called the latter actions by the Chinese air force – coming within 5m of the Canadian plane – “dangerous and reckless”.

Beijing hit back, accusing the Aurora plane of having “illegally intruded into the airspace” of Chiwei island, which lies in the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, claimed by China.

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