Patrick Goodenough | International Editor | Friday, November 30, 2007
A day after White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had told President Bush the decisions to deny entry to the ships were a "misunderstanding," China's foreign ministry flatly contradicted her.
"Reports that Foreign Minister Yang said in the United States that it was a misunderstanding do not accord with the facts," said ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao.
"On the issue of port visits, China acts in accordance with the principles of its sovereignty and approves specific visits on a case-by-case basis," Liu said.
He implied that the decision was linked to U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan, and the recent high-profile visit to the U.S. by Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama, who Beijing reviles as a "separatist."
Actions like last month's meeting between President Bush and the Tibetan leader -- who was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal -- had "disturbed and impaired" bilateral relations, Liu said.
Asked about the discrepancy, Perino told a briefing Thursday that the U.S. was asking the Chinese for clarification, and reiterated that China had earlier attributed the incident to a "miscommunication."
"Regardless, we believe it was wrong," she said of China's refusal to allow the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk to dock in Hong Kong over the Thanksgiving long weekend.
Beijing's last-minute refusal on the eve of the holiday forced the ship and its accompanying vessels to make for its home port in Japan. China later reversed the decision but, Navy officials said, by that time it was too late.
Hundreds of family members had earlier flown to Hong Kong to spend the holiday with their loved ones among the crew, U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Timothy Keating said earlier this week.
"It was a tremendous disappointment for them, a lot of expense, and we hope that that would never happen again," Perino said.
But she also sought to play down the episode, calling it "one small incident ... in the big scheme of things, we have very good relations [with China]."
Shortly before the Kitty Hawk was denied entry, China also refused permission for two U.S. Navy minesweepers to enter the port to shelter from an advancing storm. Keating described that incident as even more troubling than the Thanksgiving one, noting that providing safe harbor in bad weather was standard practice.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, and since then, Beijing has on occasion blocked entry to U.S. warships to show displeasure over U.S. policies or actions. The last such incident was also linked to Taiwan - but that was five years ago, and the Pentagon has taken steps to improve relations with the Chinese military since then.
China's long running dispute with Taiwan, which it claims as a renegade province, has deepened over President Chen Shui-bian's plan to hold a referendum next March on whether the self-governing island democracy should be allowed to join the United Nations.
Although the referendum would have little more than symbolic value, China has expressed concern that Chen -- who leaves office next spring -- will use the vote to move Taiwan towards independence.
Beijing has vowed to prevent Taiwan's formal breakaway, by force if necessary, and the Pentagon estimates the Chinese have nearly 1,000 short range ballistic missiles deployed across the Strait, targeting the island.
Although the U.S. government has publicly opposed Chen's referendum plan, the U.S. is also committed under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to help Taiwan to defend itself against unprovoked aggression.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon's Defense Security and Cooperation Agency informed Congress of plans to sell Taiwan upgraded Patriot missile defense equipment. Two months earlier, the DSCA announced plans to sell Taiwan anti-submarine aircraft and missiles "for self-defense against air and cruise missile threats."
Liu on November 14 reacted to the news by saying the U.S. actions "grossly interfere in China's internal affairs, endanger China's national security and peaceful reunification, and also disturb the improvement and development of China-U.S. relations."
He urged the U.S. to stop arms sales "so as not to send any wrong signals to the secessionist forces for Taiwan independence."
Meanwhile, a Chinese Navy destroyer this week is paying the first-ever visit by a Chinese warship to Japan.
See earlier story:
China Silent on Denying US Ships Port Entry in Hong Kong (Nov. 28, 2007)
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