USS Blue Ridge due in Hong Kong amid tension
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The USS Blue Ridge was approved to arrive in Hong Kong on Thursday, despite ongoing tensions over a $6 billion arms sale to Taiwan that led China to suspend official military exchanges in January.
Since there are no events planned with the Chinese military, both countries consider the visit by the 7th Fleet’s flagship to be a routine port call and not a military exchange — a nuance that allows China to continue its outward posture without further inflaming bilateral ties.
The ship gained clearance March 19 from the Chinese to dock at Victoria Harbor from Thursday until Tuesday, 7th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Jeff Davis said Wednesday via telephone from aboard the Blue Ridge.
“There is a whole process that governs military-to-military exchanges in China,” Davis said. “Hong Kong visits don’t fall into that category. We don’t consider them military-to-military engagements.”
Seventh Fleet commander Vice Adm. John Bird is not aboard and no high-level talks with Chinese officials are planned, Davis said.
The Blue Ridge visit comes one month after the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz stopped in Hong Kong. There were no Chinese military tours or exchanges during the Nimitz visit.
On Feb. 22, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that despite China’s stance, no military exchanges had actually been canceled.
The same day, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that he still planned on visiting China later this year.
China previously broke off military relations for five months in 2008, when the U.S. last announced an arms sale to Taiwan.
Hong Kong has long been a port of call for U.S. ships; however, China has denied ships access in the past.
In 2007, the USS Kitty Hawk was initially denied mooring over Thanksgiving. The Chinese government later relented, but not before the ship had already decided to return to Yokosuka Naval Base.
While in port, the Blue Ridge’s band will perform, and sailors will work on a community service project. Other than that, the port call is a break for the crew, following two weeks in South Korea as part of the annual Key Resolve exercise, Davis said.