Unhappy Thanksgiving for the USS Kitty Hawk Strike Group (UPDATED)
At the last minute, Chinese officials have REVERSED course and pulled long-approved permission for the USS Kitty Hawk and accompanying vessels to conduct a port visit in Hong Kong over Thanksgiving. Instead the family members that flew there at their own expense will be without their Sailors, while the Sailors will be aboard their ships going in circles in the South China Sea. Why? China doesn’t say.
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 crew members 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 U.S. 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 U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, which he said he hoped would lead to a long-term dialogue.
There is of course lots of conjecture in the media as to why. Bush did this or that, met with the Dalai Lama, and total baloney about a Chinese submarine surfacing near a carrier last year (old news suddenly resurrected), but who knows, as “The Chinese Foreign Ministry declined immediate comment.”
The official word from the Pacific Fleet states the facts better
The USS Kitty Hawk Carrier Strike Group has been refused entry into the port of Hong Kong for a scheduled visit. The reason for the refusal is unknown at this time.
Kitty Hawk Strike Group ships originally scheduled for the Nov. 21-24 port visit are: USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), USS Shiloh (CG 67), USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), USS McCampbell (DDG 85), and USS Mustin (DDG 89). The Los Angeles class nuclear fast attack submarine USS Topeka (SSN 754) was also due to enter port with the Strike Group.
The USS Kitty Hawk Strike Group is commanded by Rear Adm. Richard B. Wren and is permanently forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan. The Kitty Hawk Strike Group will be returning to Yokosuka, Japan.
The ships had just concluded an exercise with the Japanese Navy (oops, Maritime Self Defense Force). This was to be the last visit of our last non-nuclear carrier (steam turbine powered, not diesel as some reports state) to Hong Kong before decommissioning. This major snub will not be ignored by the Navy (nor by the State Department), and it will be a long time before ships of the US Fleet visit Hong Kong unless significant apologies are made, and this is a major setback to any military “dialogue” with China.
UPDATE (James Joyner): It looks look cooler heads have prevailed.
But the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Thursday the carrier would be allowed to dock in the former British colony after all. “We have decided to allow the Kitty Hawk to stay in Hong Kong during Thanksgiving,” spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference. “It is a decision based on humanitarian considerations only.”
He did not say why the ships had been blocked in the first place, but there are issues that may have prompted Beijing’s action including U.S. plans to sell Taiwan a $940 million upgrade to its missile system and last month’s meeting between U.S. President George W. Bush and the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist leader who Beijing considers a traitor.
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.
Beijing’s move coincided 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.”
Style guides advise against applying the adjective “inscrutable” to Asians, for good historical reason. It’s a pity, though, as it so brilliantly describes the actions of the Chinese government.