'Aggressive' Chinese Fighter Jets Spook Canadian Plane on UN Mission

(Bloomberg) -- A Canadian general criticized the Chinese air force over an incident off the coast of the Asian nation that apparently saw a fighter jet cut off a patrol plane and drop flares in its path.

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The episode on Monday was reported by Global News, which had journalists on the Canadian surveillance aircraft. Chinese fighters also flew within 5 meters (5.5 yards) of the plane, it added.

“They became very aggressive and to a degree we would deem it unsafe and unprofessional,” Major-General Iain Huddleston told the Canadian news outlet. Canada didn’t want to have “anything untoward happen that would result in loss of life,” he said.

Beijing filed a diplomatic complaint with Ottawa over the incident in the South China Sea, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Tuesday at a regular press briefing in Beijing, adding that in recent years Canadian planes have conducted reconnaissance “against China.”

“Canadian airships have made trouble at the doorstep of China,” she said. “Canada should respect facts and stop spreading false information.”

China’s Defense Ministry didn’t immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.

The incident highlights China’s frustration over Western military flights near its shores, though they are carried out in international airspace. In May, the Pentagon said a Chinese fighter jet that swerved in front of a US reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea behaved in an “unnecessarily aggressive maneuver.”

Last year, Chinese fighters reportedly buzzed Canadian planes in the region and released small pieces of aluminum in front of Australian aircraft.

See: Why the South China Sea Fuels US-China Tensions: QuickTake

China claims all of the South China Sea as its territory, and such midair confrontations have the potential to escalate. In 2001, a US Navy surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter. The jet crashed and its pilot was never found, while the Navy’s EP-3 landed on the southern Chinese island of Hainan, provoking a ten-day standoff after which the 24 American crew members were finally released.

Canada said the 13-member crew of the plane involved in the incident Monday was part of a UN mission aimed at enforcing sanctions against North Korea to encourage the nation to end its nuclear weapons program.

The missions, which include Japan, France and the US, are aimed at spotting “evasion activities, in particular ship-to-ship transfers of fuel and other commodities,” according to Ottawa.

(Updates with response from China’s Foreign Ministry.)

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