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DEFENSE MINISTRY MUM ON U.S. NAVAL SHIPS STOPPING AT MAINLAND PORTS

2004-02-17 16:18:04

    Taipei, Feb. 7 (CNA) The Ministry of National Defense confirmed Tuesday that two United States Navy ships will visit Shanghai and Hong Kong between late February and early March, but would not comment on the military activities.

    Defense ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Huang Suey-sheng was responding to reports that the USS Blue Ridge, the flagship of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, will arrive in Shanghai next week for a five-day visit, while the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk will visit Hong Kong in early March for five days.

    The mass-circulated United Daily News quoted observers as saying that the aircraft carrier's visit to Hong Kong will come at a sensitive time in the run-up to Taiwan's March 20 presidential election and is expected to help stabilize the situation.

    Huang confirmed that the USS Blue Ridge will visit Shanghai Feb. 24, but said that this will only be a routine military exchange between the two sides.

    Huang would not comment on whether the presence of the two U.S. Navy ships have anything to do with tensions between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait because of a referendum called by President Chen Shui-bian to be held alongside the March 20 presidential election in Taiwan. Chen is seeking re-election. "The defense ministry will not comment on the U.S. military activities and there are no unusual military maneuvers in mainland China," Huang said.

    During the two previous presidential elections in Taiwan, the United States also sent aircraft carriers to monitor waters near the Taiwan Strait.

    In late February 2000, or one month before Taiwan's presidential election, the Kitty Hawk left its home port in Japan for the Taiwan Strait.

    During the Taiwan Strait crisis in 1996, when mainland China lobbed missiles in the waters north of Taiwan, the United States also sent the aircraft carriers Nimitz and Independence to waters near the Taiwan Strait.

(By Lilian Wu)

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