Times Colonist

Of­fi­cials weighed war­ship’s pas­sage through sen­si­tive strait near China

Trip came three months after Chi­nese jets buzzed two other Cana­dian ships in re­gion

- LEE BERTHIAUME Canada News · Politics · Asian Politics · China · Ottawa · Canadian Department of National Defence · Global Affairs Canada · Canada · Taiwan · Privy Council of the United Kingdom · Council · Beijing · United States of America · United Nations · North Korea · South Korea · Bangkok · Royal Canadian Navy · Privy Council Office

OT­TAWA — Newly re­leased doc­u­ments have shed light on the se­cret gov­ern­ment talks and de­bate that took place ahead of a Cana­dian war­ship’s pas­sage through a sen­si­tive wa­ter­way near China last year.

Those dis­cus­sions in­cluded a pri­vate meet­ing be­tween the top bu­reau­crats at the Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence and Global Af­fairs Canada, weeks be­fore HMCS Ot­tawa sailed through the Tai­wan Strait.

De­fence of­fi­cials were also told to keep quiet about the frigate’s trip in Septem­ber 2019, three months after Chi­nese fighter jets buzzed two other Cana­dian ships mak­ing the same voy­age.

And they were or­dered to keep the Privy Coun­cil Of­fice, the depart­ment that sup­ports the prime min­is­ter, in the loop as the Ot­tawa was mak­ing its way through the wa­ter­way.

The un­usual level of at­ten­tion from the high­est lev­els of gov­ern­ment laid out in the doc­u­ments, ob­tained by the Cana­dian Press through ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion, un­der­scores the sen­si­tiv­i­ties sur­round­ing the trip. That is be­cause while much of the world con­sid­ers the 180-kilo­me­tre strait to be in­ter­na­tional wa­ters, Bei­jing claims own­er­ship of the strait sep­a­rat­ing main­land China from Tai­wan.

Bei­jing, which re­gards the self-ruled is­land of Tai­wan as a rogue province, has re­peat­edly con­demned such pas­sages by for­eign war­ships from the U.S., Canada and else­where as il­le­gal.

HMCS Ot­tawa ended up sail­ing through the Tai­wan Strait twice in early Septem­ber. Me­dia re­ports at the time said the frigate was shad­owed by the Chi­nese navy.

The heav­ily redacted memo to Global Af­fairs deputy min­is­ter Marta Mor­gan dated Aug. 7, 2019 starts by say­ing the De­fence Depart­ment was look­ing for a risk as­sess­ment for the Ot­tawa’s planned tran­sit.

De­fence Depart­ment deputy min­is­ter Jody Thomas “has also re­quested a meet­ing with you on Aug. 12 to dis­cuss this de­ploy­ment,” the memo adds.

While HMCS Ot­tawa was in the re­gion at the time help­ing en­force United Na­tions sanc­tions against North Korea, the memo noted that the frigate was due to make a port visit in Bangkok in mid-Septem­ber.

De­fence of­fi­cials have pub­licly stated that the de­ci­sion to have the Ot­tawa sail through the strait was be­cause the route was the fastest way for the frigate to reach Bangkok from its po­si­tion near North Korea.

The memo backs that as­ser­tion, not­ing that go­ing around Tai­wan would add one or two days to the trip each way.

Yet it also says the navy’s pres­ence in the South China Sea, of which the Tai­wan Strait is a part, “has demon­strated Cana­dian sup­port for our clos­est part­ners and al­lies, re­gional se­cu­rity and the rules-based in­ter­na­tional or­der.”

Global Af­fairs ul­ti­mately agreed to the Ot­tawa’s sail­ing through the strait, but called on de­fence of­fi­cials to keep the trip quiet, in large part be­cause of fears the trip would co­in­cide with the fed­eral elec­tion cam­paign.

“Fi­nally, GAC will ask DND to en­sure that it keeps PCO in­formed as this naval de­ploy­ment pro­gresses,” the memo adds.

For­mer Cana­dian am­bas­sador to China David Mul­roney de­scribed the dis­cus­sions lead­ing up to the Ot­tawa’s tran­sit of the Tai­wan Strait as “an illustrati­on of smart and ef­fec­tive con­sul­ta­tion pro­duc­ing the right de­ci­sion.”

“It is tremen­dously im­por­tant that China sees that, in ad­di­tion to the United States, other se­ri­ous coun­tries like Canada will not be in­tim­i­dated into sur­ren­der­ing the Tai­wan Strait and Tai­wan it­self to China’s com­plete con­trol,” he said.

“The RCN, work­ing closely with Global Af­fairs, is pro­mot­ing the na­tional in­ter­est and as­sert­ing our sovereignt­y from the far side of the world.”

 ??  ?? Fam­ily mem­bers and friends wait to wel­come home the crew aboard HMCS Ot­tawa fol­low­ing its four-month de­ploy­ment to the Asi­aPa­cific re­gion upon its re­turn to CFB Esquimalt on Dec. 18 last year.
Fam­ily mem­bers and friends wait to wel­come home the crew aboard HMCS Ot­tawa fol­low­ing its four-month de­ploy­ment to the Asi­aPa­cific re­gion upon its re­turn to CFB Esquimalt on Dec. 18 last year.

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