US warships visit Hong Kong for first time since entry barred


Crew members of the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan during an exercise at sea on Nov 3, 2018.
Crew members of the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan during an exercise at sea on Nov 3, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - A trio of US naval vessels anchored in Hong Kong on Wednesday (Nov 21), the first US naval ships to harbour in the city since China barred entry to another American ship in September, in a sign of easing military tensions between the two powers.

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville, and guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis D. Wilbur made port in Hong Kong Harbour.

US navy ships have visited Hong Kong for decades.

Beijing's refusal of entry to the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp earlier this year was thought to be in protest against the US sanctioning China's military for buying Russian weapons.

MILITARY-TO-MILITARY

The visit by the USS Ronald Reagan and accompanying vessels reflects recent attempts by both sides to improve military-to-military relations, said Zhang Baohui, director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at the city's Lingnan University.

US Secretary of Defence James Mattis met his Chinese counterpart, General Wei Fenghe, in Washington earlier this month.

The State Department said both sides agreed a "military-to-military relationship could be a stabilising factor" for the relationship.

Their summit was part of the second so-called US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, during which Secretary of State Michael Pompeo met Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi.

Though both sides highlighted a deep divide on diplomacy and security, Mattis and Wei agreed to set up a military-to-military "deconfliction and crisis communication network" and hold a joint military exercise on maritime search and rescue by the end of the year.

The meetings took place a month after the US accused China's navy of "unsafe and unprofessional" conduct after a Chinese destroyer in the disputed South China Sea nearly collided with a US warship.

"Both sides had to do something to tone down tensions after their ships nearly collided," said Zhang. "Mattis said China was a competitor, not an enemy. China had to do something to reciprocate."