US strike group denied port visit in Hong Kong
By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 29, 2016
China recently denied a request for a port visit by a U.S. carrier strike group to Hong Kong, according to the Pentagon.
“We were recently informed that a request for a port visit by a U.S. carrier strike group, including the USS John C. Stennis and accompanying vessels, to Hong Kong was denied,” said U.S. Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Bill Urban in a written statement.
The dates of the request and denial were not disclosed.
“We have a long track record of successful port visits to Hong Kong, including with the current visit of the USS Blue Ridge, and we expect that will continue.”
The Blue Ridge arrived in Hong Kong on Wednesday and will remain there until May 3, he said.
China has not issued a formal statement on the denial.
The move is likely China’s response to a visit earlier this month by Defense Secretary Ash Carter to the Philippines, during which he and the Philippines Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin flew to the Stennis strike group, then cruised in the South China Sea.
China and the Philippines are embroiled in a dispute over sovereignty of reefs and small atolls in the South China Sea. The U.S. has officially remained neutral on the sovereignty issue, but the U.S. Navy began so-called freedom-of-navigation patrols near the islands last fall.
U.S. officials have said that China is militarizing the disputed zone with airstrips and equipment.
China has objected to the U.S. patrols and also expressed displeasure with the joint visit to the Stennis.
During a news conference in Beijing on Thursday, China Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the U.S. is “exaggerating deliberately the China threat in the South China Sea.”
Urban declined to say what other U.S. Navy ships are slated to visit China.
The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong reported that the China Foreign Ministry said requests for port calls by U.S. warships were examined on a “case by case basis.”