James Pomfret / Reuters – 2007-11-22 23:05:10
HONG KONG (Nov 22, 2007) — China has refused permission for a US aircraft carrier and accompanying vessels to visit Hong Kong for a long-planned Thanksgiving holiday visit, the US State Department said on Wednesday.
The USS Kitty Hawk group and its crew of 8,000 airmen and sailors had been expected in Hong Kong on Wednesday, but will now spend the holiday on the South China Sea.
Hundred of relatives of crewmembers of the Kitty Hawk had flown to Hong Kong to celebrate Thanksgiving with them. Hong Kong, especially its Wanchai bar district, has been a regular port of call for US sailors on “R & R” (rest and recuperation) since the Vietnam War.
“I miss my daddy,” said Mark Curry, 14, whose father is aboard one of the vessels. “We thought he was going to be there, but we don’t know what actually happened. I was just depressed.”
The Chinese move comes as a surprise just weeks after a visit to China by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, which he said he hoped would lead to a long-term dialogue.
“At present, it appears the USS Kitty Hawk strike group will not be making a port call in Hong Kong as previously planned as a result of a last-minute denial by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson said. The United States was pressing China to explain and to reconsider its decision, she added.
There are several issues that may have prompted Beijing’s action, including US plans to sell Taiwan a $940 million upgrade to its missile system and last month’s meeting between US President George W. Bush and the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist leader who Beijing considers a traitor.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry declined immediate comment.
Last year, a Chinese submarine surfaced uncomfortably close to the Kitty Hawk near the Japanese island of Okinawa, an incident that highlighted the potential for friction between the two powers.
“The US Consul General in Hong Kong is in touch with the Kitty Hawk families,” said Anthony Hutchinson, public affairs director at the US Consulate.
“I’ve seen some spouses and family come in, they’re now sightseeing … they’ll adjust,” said another consular official who asked not to be named.
Beijing’s move coincides with “airspace controls” introduced on Wednesday, which the Xinhua news agency said affected the air travel plans of 7,000 people in south and east China.
The controls had been ordered for “unspecified reasons”.
The Kitty Hawk, laid down in 1956, has the second longest active service of any ship in the US navy after the USS Constitution, a 208-year-old ceremonial sailing ship kept in Boston Harbor.
It is the only conventionally fuelled carrier in the US fleet and is due to be decommissioned next year.
“For a lot of guys, this is their favorite port in the entire area of operations for us in the Western Pacific,” one crew member told Reuters. “And this is also the Kitty Hawk‘s last port visit here before being decommissioned so it was a big deal.”
Additional reporting by Joanne Allen and Lindsay Beck; editing by Nick Macfie and Roger Crabb
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