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American Forces Press Service

Keating Aims to Improve Communication with China After Port Call Rejections

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 27, 2007 – The top U.S. military officer in the Pacific said he’s concerned that China recently denied U.S. ships’ requests for port visits in Hong Kong and plans to take the matter up during a trip he hopes to make to Beijing early next year.

Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said he found it “perplexing and troublesome” that the Chinese refused the Kitty Hawk Battle Group entrance to Hong Kong for a port call during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Hundreds of the sailors’ family members had flown from Japan to spend the holiday with their loved ones when the Kitty Hawk carrier and several of its escorts were forced to abandon their port call.

By the time China reversed its decision, the U.S. ships had already turned around. “It was too late by then,” Keating said.

The incident came on the heels of what he called an even more troublesome situation: China’s refusal to admit two U.S. minesweepers into Hong Kong to seek refuge from a brewing storm.

The Patriot and Guardian were operating in international waters when fierce weather conditions drove them to seek shelter in Hong Kong, Keating said. China refused their request, forcing them to get refueled at sea so they could return to their homeport in Sasebo, Japan.

China’s denial of their request violated “an unwritten rule among seamen that if someone is in need, regardless of genus, phylum or species, you let them come in -- you give them safe harbor,” Keating said.

“Jimmy Buffet has songs about it, for crying out loud,” he said.

Keating called China’s actions “very unusual” and expressed hope they’ll be the last. “We would certainly hope this is not indicative of future repeat denials,” he said.

He called Hong Kong “one of the great liberty ports in the world” that gives sailors and Marines afloat an opportunity to meet with their families during a deployment.

Keating said he plans to bring the issue up if the Chinese agree to a meeting he’s requested for January. Other topics will likely be China’s weapons program, which Keating said includes weapons that indicate “a little more aggressive strategic goal” than the defensive posture the Chinese advocate.

The bottom line, he said, is that solid communication between the United States and China will help reduce the potential for misunderstanding. This will leave “less room for confusion that could lead to confrontation, to crisis,” he said.

“That’s our goal,” Keating said. “To get there, we reduce the chance for misunderstanding.”

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