U.S. Admiral, Chinese Discuss Port Calls

By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 15, 2008

BEIJING, Jan. 15 -- In high-level meetings this week, Chinese officials did not give the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Timothy J. Keating, any reason for rejecting a routine port call in Hong Kong by a U.S. aircraft carrier in November. But Keating said Tuesday that a request for a visit in several weeks received "favorable consideration."

Beijing's refusal to allow the USS Kitty Hawk battle group and other Navy ships to visit Hong Kong became a diplomatic incident last year. The decision seemed shrouded in mystery, with conflicting statements from Chinese officials.

Experts speculated that China was unhappy about the United States honoring the Dalai Lama, whom China regards as a "splittist" advocating an independent Tibet, and with U.S. arms sales to self-ruled Taiwan.

Keating, whose last visit to Hong Kong in 1999 was on the Kitty Hawk, said he was unclear about who in the Chinese government decides whether to deny port calls, especially those arranged well in advance.

"We have a request in for another visit to Hong Kong fairly soon, and I was given assurances that it would receive, I'll say, favorable consideration," said Keating, the U.S. military commander for the Asia-Pacific region. "Those are my words, but I was not unhappy with the language used both at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Defense."

Keating is on his second visit to Beijing since his posting in March, seeking to build better relationships with the Chinese military and urge more transparency.

In remarks to reporters Monday, Chinese Gen. Chen Bingde, chief of general staff, suggested that the Kitty Hawk had not followed the correct procedures.

"China is a country with its own territory," Chen said. "If your ship wants to stop in Hong Kong, you have to follow the international rules and go through some procedures.

Keating said the Chinese had not made the same complaint privately and that the United States had followed all international rules.

He said the two sides focused on future events and operations, including an invitation to the Chinese to participate in a multilateral military exercise in Thailand in May.

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