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Canada protests after aircraft ‘buzzed’ by Chinese jets

China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) fighter jets have repeatedly “buzzed” a Canadian reconnaissance aircraft on a U.N. mission in East Asia, with over two dozen intercepts deemed dangerous, a media outlet in Canada reported.

“Buzzing” means flying extremely close and fast. On these occasions the Chinese jets came as close as 20 to 100 feet (six to 30 meters) to the Canadian plane, according to a report Wednesday in Canada’s Global News.

The network quoted anonymous sources in the Canadian government and military as saying the government lodged “multiple” diplomatic complaints with Beijing for what they called the “unsafe and unprofessional conduct” of the Chinese pilots.

The Canadian maritime patrol aircraft CP-140 Aurora, manned by rotating crews, is currently taking part in U.N. Operation NEON to monitor sanctions against North Korea.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Department of National Defence was quoted as saying that the incidents are “of concern and of increasing frequency.”  

There have been around 60 such incidents since December with the planes sometimes coming so close the pilots could make eye contact with each other, risking a mid-air collision, the report said.

The Chinese government is believed not to have responded to Canada’s complaints, the report said.

The Lockheed CP-140 Aurora is similar to the Lockheed P-3C Orion which is used by the U.S. Navy for anti-submarine and maritime surveillance. 

The Aurora is “Canada’s primary airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft,” according to the Canadian government website. It “provides a full range of maritime, littoral and overland surveillance capabilities for domestic and deployed missions.”

It is unclear which type of Chinese aircraft were involved in the “buzzing” incidents. 

Close encounters continue

There have been a number of close encounters between Chinese and foreign military airplanes in recent years. 

The latest incident took place in March when U.S. Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters had at least one close contact with China’s J-20 stealth fighters over the East China Sea.

A U.S. Navy P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft and a Chinese military surveillance aircraft came within 1,000 feet (305 meters) of each other in the skies over the South China Sea in 2017.

The worst incident occurred in April 2001 when a Chinese F-8 fighter jet collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries II surveillance plane over the South China Sea, killing the Chinese pilot. The U.S. airplane had to make an emergency landing on China’s Hainan island and its 24 crew members were detained for 11 days before being released. 

Strained relationship

Canada-China relations have been strained after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive at the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei in 2018 at the request of the U.S.

China retaliated by arresting two Canadian citizens, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. 

The two Canadians were released last September after Meng was allowed to return to China. Relations between the two countries soured again last month after Canada banned Huawei and another Chinese telecom company, ZTE, from taking part in its 5G network development.