Canada is deploying two warships to the Indo-Pacific, the second and third Canadian military vessels dispatched to the region this year in keeping with a commitment to bolster the country’s presence there.
HMCS Ottawa and Vancouver, both Halifax-class frigates, departed from Canada Forces Base Esquimalt, Canada’s Pacific coast naval base, on Monday. They are expected to be away for nearly five months.
Their first stop will be an exercise with U.S. military vessels near the Aleutian Islands, according to Lieutenant Colonel Edward Stewart, a spokesperson for Canadian Joint Operations Command.
Two weeks ago in that same area, off the coast of Alaska, a combined patrol of Chinese and Russian military naval vessels were detected. The two countries have strengthened ties since Russia invaded Ukraine. According to military experts cited by the The Wall Street Journal, this was the largest such flotilla to approach U.S. territory.
Four American destroyers and a reconnaissance plane were sent to monitor them. U.S. Northern Command said at the time that this was to “assure the defence of the United States and Canada.” Canada did not participate in the response, but the Department of National Defence said in a statement that it fully supported the steps taken by the U.S.
After the exercise, HMCS Ottawa will operate in southeast Asia. Its exact assignments will be determined later. HMCS Vancouver will focus on northeast Asia, where its activities will include enforcing United Nations sanctions against North Korea, a mission known as Operation Neon.
“During their near five months at sea, the ships will conduct a series of bilateral and multinational exercises and engagements with regional militaries and security partners,” the Department of National Defence said in a statement.
Canada pledged to boost its annual deployment of warships to the Indo-Pacific region to three, up from two, in a new foreign-affairs strategy released this past November. HMCS Montreal was deployed to the region in March, and is set to return to Halifax in September.
The term Indo-Pacific reflects the way many Western countries have reframed their engagement with the Asia-Pacific region. These governments are now working to build common cause between India and neighbouring countries that have burgeoning middle-class populations and a shared interest in addressing China’s growing influence in the region.
Each of the Halifax-class frigates has a crew of about 240. They will be accompanied by MV Asterix, a refuelling and replenishment ship.
The Canadian frigates are expected to sail through the Taiwan Strait – the body of water that separates the People’s Republic of China from the self-governed island of Taiwan – “whenever it makes sense to do so,” according to Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee, Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy.
China claims Taiwan as its territory, despite the fact that the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled the island. China also claims sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait.
General Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff, said in a statement that Canada’s expanded defence presence will demonstrate that this country “can be counted on to be an engaged and reliable partner in the Indo-Pacific now and in the years to come.”
Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy, released by Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly last fall, is a blueprint for diversifying and deepening trade in the region, which stretches from North America to the Indian Ocean. The strategy calls out China as an “increasingly disruptive global power” – a reversal of the government’s previous policy of avoiding confrontation with the world’s second-largest economy.