China denies US carrier group entry to Hong Kong amid South China Sea tensions

The nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis. © Mike Blake
China has denied a US request for an aircraft carrier group led by USS John C. Stennis to make a port visit to Hong Kong, the US State Department said on Friday, confirming earlier media reports.

Pentagon spokesman, Commander Bill Urban, said another US warship, the USS Blue Ridge, was currently in Hong Kong on a stop-over and the US expected that to continue.

Urban added that the request for a Hong Kong visit by the carrier and its strike group, which have been patrolling the South China Sea, was recently denied, despite a “long track record of successful port visits to Hong Kong.

The Chinese government, as well as the country’s embassy in Washington did not comment on the move.

The warship requested a port call permit early on Thursday.

The South China Morning Post newspaper, citing the Chinese Foreign Ministry,  that port calls by US warships and military aircraft had to be approved on a “case by case basis in accordance with sovereignty principles and specific circumstances.

Aircraft carrier John C. Stennis, two destroyers, two cruisers and a Japan-based US Seventh Fleet flagship sailed into the contested waters of the South China Sea in early March, to counter the presence of China. The latter has territorial disputes over islands in the South China Sea, rich in deposits of natural resources, with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. To assure its claim over the disputed territory, Beijing has been rapidly setting up defense installations in the area. 

Beijing has repeatedly warned against US interference in the region. Despite this the US Navy is actively opposing the Chinese initiative, deploying additional warships to the disputed zone and conducting maneuvers near artificial Chinese islands and flying over them, citing the “freedom of navigation” principle as an excuse.

Earlier this month China accused the US of “sabotaging regional peace” after the Pentagon chief announced a military buildup in the Philippines. Speaking in the Philippines on April 14, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the US will keep nearly 300 troops in the Philippines through the end of the month, despite completing the joint military drills. He added that US troops will have combat aircraft and helicopters at their disposal. ” In response the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement that military exchanges by relevant countries should not target third parties and  much less support a few countries in challenging China's sovereignty and security.