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FUREY: Canada’s spat with China also has military angles

Tensions have been increasing in the South China Sea for years and now Canada is a part of those tensions.

BY: ANTHONY FUREY

The headlines at home give Canadian readers the impression that all of our current troubles with China are happening on our soil and all involve trade.

Whether it’s the detention of Meng Wanzhou, the potential Huawei ban or the halting of meat imports, they all read like issues happening on this side of the globe, distinctly Canadian stories told from a Canadian perspective.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Canada is also involved in a delicate chess match taking place in international waters in the vicinity of China – and as our involvement grows so do the stakes.

The state of the media industry is such that foreign correspondents are generally a thing of the past. The only time Canadian reporters venture abroad is alongside the Prime Minister, on Canadian government flights. But Matthew Fisher – formerly of Postmedia and now a fellow with Massey College – does it old school, having spent decades out on the field as a witness to history. And he’s still at it, currently touring on the Canadian warship HMCS Regina as it travels throughout Asia.

A couple recent experiences Regina has had in waters around China show that our issues with Beijing aren’t just isolated to Huawei and trade. They’re escalating in military matters as well.

Last week it was reported that Regina transited through the Taiwan Strait, the narrow body of water that separates the independent nation of Taiwan from mainland China. While most of the world considers this waterway international waters, China considers it their own. This is largely because Beijing also considers Taiwan their own, a wayward province that they want to absorb into their country.

The Chinese military has also attempted to lay claim to large portions of the South China Sea and has militarized a number of small islands that the international community says were not theirs to take.

While American naval vessels have more frequently conducted freedom of navigation exercises in the region and through the Taiwan Strait, Canada typically doesn’t. 

That we made this voyage now, during the Huawei mess, will only further frustrate Beijing. And that’s not a bad thing. 

It’s important we show that China doesn’t get to write the rules of the game – not when it comes to our telecom system, not when it comes to our judicial system and certainly not when it comes to international waters.

There’s already been a bit of blowback. Fisher reports from on board HMCS Regina that on Monday a pair of Chinese fighter jets buzzed the Canadian warship, flying within 300 metres of the ship’s bow. The intentions are clear: We’re on to you. We’re watching you. We don’t like your presence here.

It’s completely acceptable for the military of one country to pay close attention to the operations of another country’s military when close to its shores. But China’s actions go beyond mere observation. They’re trying to assert their total dominance and preferred control of the region, something Canada must not accept.

Tensions have been increasing in the South China Sea for years and now Canada is a part of those tensions.

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