US cancels aircraft carrier's HK visit after China objects

The cancellation comes after months of strident objections by China to the presence of US aircraft carriers in the Yellow Sea, the Hong-Kong based 'South China Morning Post' reported.

US naval commanders, however, say the decision was made for operational reasons rather than because of objections from Beijing.

Commander Jeff Davis, a spokesman for the US Pacific Fleet, confirmed that the USS George Washington strike group cancelled the visit due to other operational commitments.

"It is not unusual for changes to ship schedules to occur. Hong Kong is a favourite port of call for US navy sailors, and we look forward to rescheduling a visit by USS George Washington at a future date. This cancellation was not due to a denial by the Chinese government.

"Other ship visits are continuing as planned, including USS Shiloh which is in Hong Kong right now; and USNS Safeguard which visited Hong Kong last week," Davis said.
Based in Japan and the only carrier permanently stationed outside the United States, the George Washington is a symbol of mounting Chinese concern at the projection of US power in East Asia.

According to the daily, China's concerns were conveyed during a private dinner in Hong Kong six weeks ago by chief executive of Hong Kong, Tung Chee-hwa to Admiral Robert Willard, the head of the US Pacific Command.

He reportedly told the Admiral not to contain China and that US carriers which were exercising in the Yellow Sea were "too close for Beijing's comfort".

The news of the cancellation of the ship's visit came a day after officials in both Beijing and Washington said that Defence Minister Liang Guanglie would meet his US counterpart, Robert Gates at a gathering of regional defence chiefs in Hanoi next week.
It will be the highest-level bilateral meeting since Beijing froze military exchanges in January in protest against the US arms sales to Taiwan.

Tensions with Beijing escalated when Washington raised concerns over China's assertiveness in the South China Sea and staged high-profile exercises with South Korea in the Sea of Japan and Yellow Sea. China also scrapped a long-planned visit by Gates to Beijing in June.

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