Canada sailed a warship Tuesday through international waters in the Taiwan Strait, the same sea passage where China staged an unprecedented show of force last month after a high-level U.S. political visit to Taipei.
HMCS Vancouver, with 230 sailors, made the transit along with the destroyer U.S.S. Higgins from the Philippines to South Korean waters, where it is helping enforce sanctions against North Korea. The trip through the strait takes eight to 12 hours.
Daniel Le Bouthillier, the head of media relations at the Department of National Defence (DND), said the Canadian ship used the 180-kilometre-wide strait between Taiwan and China “because it was the most direct navigational route.”
China regularly condemns Canada and its allies for using the Taiwan Strait, accusing them of threatening peace in the region. Beijing considers the self-governed island of Taiwan to be a renegade province and has not ruled out the use of force to annex it. It also claims sovereignty and jurisdiction over the strait.
On Tuesday, China’s embassy in Ottawa accused Canada of acting as a “cat’s-paw,” or tool, of other powers.
In a statement provided to The Globe and Mail, the embassy said Beijing carefully watched the transit by the Canadian and U.S. warships. “The Chinese side was closely following and monitoring, and on the alert, against the US and the Canadian military vessels’ passage through the Taiwan Strait from start to end.”
The embassy said “the Chinese military is always on high alert and will resolutely respond to all threats and provocations.”
DND said Canadian ships are within their rights to take this route. “This sail was done in full accordance with international law, including high seas navigation rights as outlined in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Mr. Le Bouthillier said.
The U.S. Navy reinforced that message in a statement posted on its Seventh Fleet website, saying “high seas freedoms of navigation” apply in the Taiwan Strait and the two ships “transited through a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal state.”
Taiwan’s envoy in Canada lauded the passage of HMCS Vancouver. “We welcome a Canadian warship sailing through the Taiwan Strait, which demonstrates the Canadian government’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Harry Tseng said.
The Chinese embassy said Canada should stop doing other countries’ bidding. It did not name the United States, but has regularly accused Canada of acting as a tool for Washington.
“The Canadian side should proceed from its own interests and overall situation of China-Canadian relations, and reject acting as a cat’s-paw of others,” the embassy said.
Canada’s military sails through the Taiwan Strait about once a year, while U.S. warships transit it regularly. Both countries sailed warships through the strait in mid-October of 2021.
Canadian MPs, including Liberal Judy Sgro, are set to make a controversial trip to Taiwan in early October to demonstrate solidarity with the self-governed island and to discuss expanding Canadian-Taiwanese ties. China has warned that it would take “forceful measures” if Canada were to “interfere with or infringe upon China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
China’s authoritarian rulers lay claim to Taiwan even though the Chinese Communist Party, which seized power on the mainland more than 72 years ago, has never governed the island. In a 1970 communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, Canada did not endorse Beijing’s claim that Taiwan is an “inalienable part” of its territory; it merely said it “takes note of this position.”
Tensions between China and Taiwan flared up in early August after U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei, the highest-ranking American politician to do so in 25 years.
Beijing responded by encircling Taiwan with warships and conducting live-fire exercises that sent ballistic missiles over the northern part of the island.
The menacing display was the largest to date. China said it plans to conduct similar drills in the future, and Taipei has accused Beijing of trying to normalize military operations increasingly close to the island.
In a 60 Minutes interview broadcast Sunday, U.S. President Joe Biden said in his clearest statement yet that the U.S. would defend Taiwan if it came under attack from China. In response, Beijing said his statement sends “a serious wrong signal to the separatist forces of Taiwan independence” on the island.
Ms. Sgro, the chair of the Canada Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Group, said six or seven MPs are signed up to visit Taiwan starting Oct. 8. She said the purpose of the trip is to further “our friendship with Taiwan” and expand business opportunities for both countries.
In recent weeks Taiwan has been receiving a string of visitors from Western countries eager to show their support, including delegations from France, the Czech Republic and the U.S.