On Feb. 22, the Canadian military reported that it had uncovered evidence of Chinese surveillance in the Arctic, shedding light on the mystery of China’s presence in the region.
Though Beijing denies any involvement, recent events have placed the communist government under intense scrutiny.
According to The Globe and Mail, the discovery of Chinese surveillance buoys in the north came after a Chinese spy balloon was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean by the U.S. military in February after it traversed the North American continent.
Several monitoring buoys spotted during the operation were already acquired last fall as part of Operation Limpid, an ongoing mission to spot threats to Canada’s national security.
The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces said that they were aware of China’s surveillance of Canadian airspace and waters.
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“To ensure the integrity of operations, we are unable to provide further information at this time,” spokesperson Daniel Le Buthillier said in a statement, adding that the armed forces have foiled multiple surveillance attempts since 2022. He did not, however, elaborate on the details of the operation.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly told CNN that China “is an increasingly disruptive power,” adding that Canada will cooperate with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to defend North American airspace in the face of increasing foreign interests in the region.
According to retired lieutenant-general Michael Day, the Chinese buoys were probably used to surveil U.S. nuclear submarine traffic in the Arctic, in addition to charting seabeds and the thickness of ice.
“China, like most nations, is super interested in the pretty significant changes that are happening up north. They do not have an icebound port, but they do have a rapidly growing icebreaking fleet,” he said.
Taking keen interest in the Arctic, China has explored the region 33 times in the last twenty years, building up its icebreaker fleet for research expeditions. Beijing also desires a shorter trade route to Europe.
“This is a part of the world that has not been mapped and understood to the same degree of detail as other latitudes,” Roberto Mazzolin, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said, according to the BBC.
Mazzolin previously believed that the Arctic would be a safe area from threat, but China and Russia’s own interests in the region have increased the risk factor.
“[Canada is forced to] look at how we would posture our own security, our military defense, or our economic development activities to secure Canadian and American interests,” he said.
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It was previously suspected that China tried to rig Canada’s federal election in 2021, in an attempt to allow Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party to win a minority of government and defeat the Conservative party, who Beijing reportedly believes would have been too hawkish.
Trudeau said on Wednesday that he would support a probe into the reports, calling the alleged election interference “an extraordinarily serious issue.”