Canada wary of challenging China on South China Sea


Ottawa has no plans to make any waves in Beijing’s direction as it looks to build defense ties with its second largest trading partner

Canada’s naval engagement in the Western Pacific has grown considerably in the past two years, and warships waving the Maple Leaf flag are becoming a common sight in the troubled region. But despite its alliance with the United States, which is increasingly concerned with China’s militarization of the South China Sea, it is too much of a stretch to think that Ottawa is sending its navy there to challenge Beijing.

Commander Blair Saltel, commanding officer of the Canadian frigate HMCS Calgary, which is currently in East Asia supporting Operation Projection, has been reported to say that his country expects to send one or two ships to the area on a yearly basis. There is already speculation that Canada is ready to join US-sponsored Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the China seas.

Responding to a request for comment from Asia Times on the scope of Canada’s naval commitment to the Asia-Pacific region, the Canadian Department of National Defense said the Royal Canadian Navy was a globally deployed force that, in line with the country’s defense policy, worked on its own and in support of allies and partners to improve regional security and stability around the world.

Moreover, the department struck a careful tone regarding the disputed East and South China seas, where Beijing has conflicting claims with Japan, Taiwan and some Southeast Asian neighbors. It stressed that while “Canada supports the principles of freedom of navigation and overflight conducted in accordance with international law, including the rights of coastal states, it does not generally comment on foreign maritime boundaries or territorial disputes.”

In this respect, it is significant that Canada calls its Asia-Pacific deployments “presence patrols,” and does not use the term FONOP, noted Dave Perry, vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.