The United States should not misread China’s recent refusal to allow one of its aircraft carriers and four accompanying vessels to make a port call in Hong Kong.
Since China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, almost all requests by the US Navy for HK port visits have been approved by Beijing. The few exceptions have mainly occurred when Sino-US ties soured. While the USS John C Stennis and four other ships were not given permission for a port call, the command ship USS Blue Ridge was. Washington should realize why Beijing adopted the different attitudes.
The denied entry of US warships to Hong Kong is only one episode in the broader Sino-US relations and it should cause less of an uproar than the series of tricks the Pentagon has played against China in recent years. However, all these episodes will be trivial if both countries can maintain a general stable relationship and seek cooperation instead of confrontation and both militaries refrain from crossing the other’s bottom line.
The US Pacific Fleet has proven the biggest source of pessimism over bilateral ties. The two countries have managed to bring under control their differences over human rights, trade and their approach to hot-spot issues. But a series of moves made by the US, from its military deployment to endanger China’s offshore interests to its muscle-flexing in the South China Sea, seem to be changing the previous positive course of bilateral relations and deepening mutual strategic suspicion.
Different from the past, any clash between China and the US would have serious repercussions. So the contest between the two countries should be limited to diplomats and public figures who have enough cards in reserve to play. The US military should stay away from touching Beijing’s core interests.