|For the first time, Chinese warships have shadowed ships from the Royal Canadian Navy. “We have interacted with Chinese ships,” was how HMCS Winnipeg’s captain put it. A pair of People’s Liberation Army Navy frigates came within three nautical miles of HMCS Winnipeg during a freedom-of-passage exercise the Canadian frigate conducted with U.S., Australian and Japanese warships late last month in the hotly contested South China Sea. The ships were shadowed for about 36 hours.|
“Whenever we are near an American ship the Chinese are there,” said the Winnipeg’s coxswain. “There is not an American ship in the South China Sea that does not get shadowed by a Chinese ship."
|China, South Korea and Japan are at loggerheads over claims to islands in the East China Sea, where Taiwan also has claims. But they are even more disputed in the South China Sea, most of which China claims. Why had Canada sent warships through contested waters? “Canada is a rule-of-law country. That is our stance on things,” HMCS Winnipeg’s captain said. “There is a right to transit international waters.”|
The proximity of the Chinese frigates was similar to what happened three years ago in the Baltic Sea when Russian warships followed HMCS Fredericton. The Winnipeg and the Ottawa have one month left in what will be a five-month voyage before they return to British Columbia.