Canada to send more warships through Taiwan Strait

Move will signal to China Ottawa’s contention that waters are international

Canada plans to sail more warships through the Taiwan Strait to affirm the waters claimed by China are international, after Ottawa released an Indo-Pacific strategy that described Beijing as an “increasingly disruptive” power.

“We need to make sure that the question of the Taiwan Strait is clear and that it remains an international strait,” Canadian foreign minister Mélanie Joly said in an interview.

“We will continue to enforce the international rules-based order when it comes to the Taiwan Strait. And that’s why also we had a frigate going through the Taiwan Strait this summer, along with the Americans, [and] we’re looking to have more frigates going through it.”

Chinese officials earlier this year told their US counterparts that China did not recognise the strait as international waters.


Speaking from Bucharest where she was attending a Nato foreign ministers’ meeting, Ms Joly said Canada was “committing to new military assets” in the Indo-Pacific to help ensure peace and stability there. She was speaking after Canada released its first strategy for the region that called for a “once-in-a-generation shift”.

The Nato ministers in Bucharest held a wide-ranging discussion on China, as the US urges the transatlantic security alliance to pay more attention to the ramifications of possible Chinese military action against Taiwan.

Ms Joly said Canada was investing C$400 million (€280 million) in military support for the Indo-Pacific. The foreign minister said Ottawa would increase the number of frigates deployed in the region by one ship to three warships. In addition to sending more Canadian diplomats to the area, she said Canada would post more military attaches across the Indo-Pacific.

Ms Joly was speaking after the Pentagon released an annual report on the Chinese military, that projected that China would have 1,500 nuclear warheads by the middle of the next decade, up from roughly 400 weapons. Asked how concerned Canada was about China’s rapid nuclear expansion, she said it was “taking note definitely”.

“We know we have to do more to play a role in the security of the region,” Ms Joly said. “We need to invest in deterrence because we believe ... it is the best way to, at the end of the day, respect international norms.”

She said Canada would also invest more in the Five Eyes – the intelligence sharing network that connects the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – but declined to provide any details about specific programmes.

“We have to make sure we have better intelligence capacity across the region ... We are a Pacific nation, we need to make sure that we play a bigger role.

“Since this part of the world is so important for us, we need to be a reliable partner because for too long we weren’t,” Ms Joly said about Canada’s overall strategy. And so now “we’re putting our money where our mouth is”.

She declined to provide details about a recent announcement that Canada and Japan would negotiate an intelligence-sharing agreement, but said it was in Ottawa’s interest to have “a very close intelligence relationship with Japan”. One person familiar with the deal being negotiated said it would also make it easier for Canadian companies to obtain sensitive information to help bid for Japanese defence-related contracts.

She said Canada wanted to strengthen ties with Japan and South Korea, partly as a destination for energy exports, but also as possible investors in its mineral sector. Her comments came just weeks after Ottawa ordered three Chinese groups to divest their stakes in Canadian mineral companies, as part of an effort to determine whether foreign investments in critical Canadian industries threatened the country’s national security.

While Canada’s new strategy takes a hard stance on China – on everything from its repression of Uighurs to its crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong – Ms Joly said Ottawa believed in the need to engage with Beijing.

She said Canada would “challenge” China when necessary but “co-operate when we must” on issues such as climate change, nuclear non-proliferation and global health issues such as preventing pandemics.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022