Last week’s denial of a port visit to Hong Kong by the John C. Stennis carrier strike group isn’t the first time U.S. ships have been turned away from the South China Sea port by Chinese authorities for political reasons.
The request for a planned port visit by USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) and four ships in its strike group — guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG-53) and guided-missile destroyers USS Stockdale (DDG-106), USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) and USS Chung-Hoon (DDG-93) – was denied by Beijing, according to U.S. officials.
“We were recently informed that a request for a port visit by a U.S. carrier strike group, including the USS John C. Stennis and accompanying vessels, to Hong Kong was denied,” Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Bill Urban told USNI News on Monday in a statement. U.S. and China did not give a specific reason why the Stennis strike group was denied entry.
In a statement to the South China Morning Post, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials said ship visits by foreign navies were made on a “case by case basis in accordance with sovereignty principles and specific circumstances.”
Scott Harold, an analyst with the RAND Corporation, told USNI News on Monday the incident that likely prompted the action from Beijing was Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s recent visit to Stennis in April.
“It happens from time to time when the Chinese don’t express themselves well diplomatically,” he said.
“[Incidents like] these tend to look bad.”
Other instances of American ships being denied entry to Hong Kong directly followed other political disagreements between Washington and Beijing in 2007 and 2014.
In 2007, shortly after then U.S. President George W. Bush presented the Tibetan exile Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal and the administration announced an arms deal with Taiwan, Chinese officials denied entrance to the port of two U.S. Avenger-class mine counter measure ships.
USS Patriot (MCM-7) and the former-USS Guardian (MCM-5) were denied access to sheltered waters and fuel before a major storm, reported The New York Times in 2007.
“As someone who has been going to sea all my life, if there is one tenet that we observe, it’s when somebody is in need, you provide — and you sort it out later,” then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead told reporters at the time.
That same year, the Kitty Hawk strike group was denied entry into the port, along with a U.S. Air Force resupply flight to the U.S. Embassy in Hong Kong as well as a holiday port visit from the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Reuben James (FFG-57), according to a report from CNN.
“Hundreds of family members of the crew aboard the Kitty Hawk and vessels in its strike group had already flown to Hong Kong for the visit when the Chinese canceled entry ‘at the last minute,’ according to the Navy,” reported The New York Times.
In August of 2014, several months after the U.S. flew two U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses Bombers that ignored Chinese imposed requirements of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea, Beijing denied a Hong Kong visit to guided missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG-97).
While the strike group won’t be making a visit at the moment, U.S. officials anticipate the lack of access to Hong Kong by the U.S. Navy will be short lived.
“We have a long track record of successful port visits to Hong Kong, including with the current visit of the USS Blue Ridge, and we expect that will continue,” Urban said.