Canadian Navy Ships Sail Through Taiwan Strait in Rare Move

By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a Master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
June 20, 2019 Updated: June 20, 2019

TAIPEI, Taiwan—Two Royal Canadian Navy ships sailed through the Taiwan Strait on June 18, in a move likely to draw ire from Beijing.

Taiwan’s Military News Agency confirmed the sailing of the two ships on June 19, saying that the Canadian vessels “conducted their freedom of navigation.” The Taiwanese military added that it detected “no anomaly” while monitoring the island’s nearby naval and air activities as the two vessels passed through.

The Canadian Trade Office in Taipei (CTOT), Canada’s de facto embassy in Taiwan, confirmed the passage of a frigate HMCS Regina and a supply ship MV Asterix while answering local media inquiries.

China considers its democratic neighbor Taiwan a renegade province that should be united with the mainland, with military force if necessary, despite the fact that the island is a de-facto independent country with its own elected officials, constitution, military, and currency. As a result, Beijing also considers the whole Taiwan Strait as its “internal sea,” and often accuses foreign countries that sail through or fly over the strait of violating international law.

Meanwhile, the Canadian voyage comes at a time of diplomatic tension between China and Canada over the case of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei, who was arrested in Vancouver at the request of American authorities. U.S. prosecutors accuse her of violating Iran sanctions and are seeking extradition.

China has retaliated against the arrest by detaining two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Beijing also recently turned down a request by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to discuss the Canadian detainees in China, according to Canadian national broadcaster CBC.

As of press time, the Chinese regime has not made any public statements regarding the Canadian ships.

But Michael Cole, Taipei-based senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, told the Wall Street Journal that he believes Beijing is likely to retaliate against Canada over the ships’ passage, because it would consider the move as Canada meddling in an “internal matter.”

Purpose of Voyage

According to Taiwanese daily newspaper Liberty Times, the CTOT stated that the ships were sailing from Cam Ranh Bay, a deep-water bay in Vietnam, to Northeast Asia to carry out a United Nations mission to ensure sanctions against North Korea were being enforced.

The passage through the Taiwan Strait was the “most practical route,” the office said.

The two ships were in Southeast Asia earlier to build up cooperation with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which include Vietnam and Cambodia, CTOT explained.

The Royal Canadian Navy previously announced in a June 9 Facebook post that it had deployed vessels and aircraft near Northeast Asia as part of Operation Neon: a UN mission to pressure North Korea to abandon its weapons of mass destruction programs. It added that the navy would conduct “surveillance operations alongside allies and partners” to contribute to security and stability in the Pacific region.

“Transit through the Taiwan Strait is not related to making any statement,” the CTOT clarified on June 20, adding that all of its recent naval activities in the region, including the passage of another frigate, HMCS Calgary, through the Taiwan Strait last October, were done in accordance with international law.

Past Trips

The U.S. military has conducted similar passages through the Taiwan Strait eight times since last July, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency.

Chinese authorities had expressed concern each time, often interpreting the trips as an affront to China’s claims of sovereignty over Taiwan.

The island itself views such passages as a show of support.

On July 7, 2018, two U.S. guided-missile destroyers, the USS Mustin (DDG-89) and the USS Benfold (DDG-65), transited the Taiwan Strait, according to local media. Most recently, on May 22, 2019, U.S. destroyer USS Preble (DDG-88) and Navy oil tanker USNS Walter S. Diehl sailed through the strait.

“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, said in a statement in response to the May 22 voyage, according to Reuters.

On April 6 this year, the French Navy frigate Vendemiaire also sailed through the Taiwan Strait. According to Reuters, Beijing responded to the French voyage by disinviting France from a Chinese naval parade that was to be held at the end of the month.

On June 1, the Pentagon released a report on the U.S. strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. The report highlighted China’s ambitions to establish “regional hegemony in the near-term,” and called for a strengthened U.S. partnership with regional allies, including Taiwan, to defend the area’s stability.

Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a Master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.