Picture: 123RF/WANGDU88
Picture: 123RF/WANGDU88

Taipei — Two Canadian naval vessels have sailed through the Taiwan Strait in  the latest manoeuvre likely to anger Beijing.

Taiwayn's defence ministry said late on Wedneday that the ships sailed through the narrow waterway between Chinese mainland and Taiwan in a “freedom of navigation” operation. No details were given.

But on Thursday morning, Canada’s military played the operation down,  saying: “Transit through the Taiwan Strait is not related to making any statement.”

Canadian officials said the frigate HMCS Regina and support vessel Asterix had visited Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay, and were sailing to Northeast Asia to join “a multinational effort to counter North Korea’s evasion of UN Security Council sanctions by maritime smuggling”.

‘Most practical route’

“The most practical route between Cam Ranh Bay and Northeast Asia involves sailing through the Taiwan Strait.”

Taipei said that Taiwan’s military monitored “movements of the relevant aircraft and vessels in the region” as the ships passed through the strait.

Before returning to Canada, the warship and its support vessel will carry out more visits in the region to project Canada’s global military capabilities and in co-operation with security partners, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said the Canadian military.

Relations between China and Canada have deteriorated since December when Vancouver police detained Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou on a US arrest warrant. Days later, China arrested two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor.

China has also blocked billions of dollars in Canadian agricultural shipments.

Beijing protested to Washington in May after a US destroyer and a supply ship sailed through the strait amid rising tension between the two powers.

US warships periodically conduct “freedom of navigation” exercises in the waterway, triggering angry responses from Beijing every time.

Beijing holds that any ships passing through the strait breach its sovereignty. The US and many other nations view the route as international waters open to all.

China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of the mainland civil war in 1949.

In April, China said its navy warned off a French warship in the Taiwan Strait that month and complained to Paris.