WASHINGTON — China denied a routine U.S. Navy request for two ships to visit Hong Kong, a likely response by Beijing because of tensions within the semi-autonomous city, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.
The denials were not viewed as strictly an anti-U.S. action or the result of any increased military tensions between Beijing and Washington, they said.
The amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay was scheduled to visit Hong Kong on August 17— Saturday — on a previously approved stop. The guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie was scheduled to visit next month.
“The U.S. Navy has a long track record of successful port visits to Hong Kong and we expect them to continue,” Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesperson for the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, said in a statement released by the Pentagon on Tuesday night. “We refer you to the Chinese Government for further information about why they denied the request.”
The last port visit by a U.S. vessel to Hong Kong was the USS Blue Ridge in April 2019.
Officials speaking on background told TMN the cancellations were likely related to the ongoing anti-government protests in the city that have been increasing in intensity since June. Since Monday, protestors have occupied Hong Kong’s airport and clashed with security personnel, all while Chinese special police and the military have been massed along the border with mainland China.
Pentagon officials said the cancellation was made for two broad reasons: one, so as not to place the U.S. vessels in possible harm’s way and, second, to prevent the sight of a U.S. ship to further stir protestors.
China’s foreign ministry has accused Washington broadly and the CIA specifically of encouraging the protests in Hong Kong, according to news reports.
The last time China canceled a scheduled port visit was the summer of 2018. That was in retaliation for being disinvited from the Pentagon’s major multinational Pacific exercise. Washington pulled the invite because of Beijing’s ongoing deployment of military hardware to contested man-made islands nd natural islands in the South China Sea.