China claimed today that it was a “series of tricks” played by the U.S. military that prompted the communist nation to refuse a port visit to American warships in Hong Kong recently, but said that the military snub should not be blown out of proportion.
An unsigned Op-Ed appearing in The Global Times, an English-language paper published by China’s communist party, says that China usually allows U.S. warships to stop in Hong Kong but has refused on occasion when “there was a chill in Sino-US ties.”
“Normally, China does not articulate its reasons, and this has been considered as a diplomatic gesture of expressing its dissatisfaction as well as taking the bilateral divergences under control,” the paper says. But it says that over the last few years “the Pentagon has played a series of tricks against China, creating quite an unpleasant atmosphere between the two sides.”
The paper says the U.S. has been “showcasing its military muscle by sending naval vessels and warplanes to China,” actions it described as a “blowhard performance” by the Pentagon.
“That seems to be changing the nature of the Sino-US frictions. Due to the severe strategic suspicions, military problems have unprecedentedly emerged between the two,” the paper says.
The Pentagon said Friday that a carrier strike group, led by the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, had been denied a port visit in Hong Kong that was planned for this week. The news was passed along to the U.S. from China via a diplomatic note, said a Defense official.
Cmdr. Bill Urban, a Defense Department spokesperson, said Friday the U.S. military has a “long track record of successful port visits to Hong Kong… and we expect that will continue.” U.S. ships have previously been denied port calls in Hong Kong in 2014 and in 2007.
The U.S. and China have had a long, complex and strained history – made more so in recent years in part due to a dispute over China’s controversial territorial claims in the South China Sea and it’s construction of “artificial islands” there, which U.S. intelligence estimates are capable of expanding the Chinese military’s reach in the region.
Last month U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter addressed sailors aboard the Stennis and said that “recently, not all of the news out of the Asia-Pacific has been positive. Indeed, in the South China Sea, China’s actions in particular are causing anxiety and raising regional tensions.”
“In response, countries across the Asia-Pacific, both long-standing allies and new partners, are reaching out anew to the United States, to uphold the rules and principles that have allowed the region to thrive. And we’re answering that call,” Carter said. “We’re standing with those countries. We’re standing up for those rules and principles. We’re making new investments in defense technology, and we’re continuing to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and we always will.”
Despite the rhetoric on both sides, elsewhere in The Global Times Op-Ed today, the author says that the refusal of the Hong Kong port visit “should be of no consequence to Beijing or Washington” in the grand scheme of things.
“As long as the big picture of Beijing-Washington ties is stable, both countries wish for development and cooperation instead of confrontation, the respective militaries will not cross the bottom line of one another, then the US’ blowhard performance will turn out to be only a show for the media,” it says.
Still, the Op-Ed ends by saying the White House has now reached “China’s bottom line” and advises Washington to “reflect on this.”