Beijing has turned away two warships from the US Pacific Fleet that sought to dock in Hong Kong for rest and recreation.
News came out on Wednesday morning that the USS Green Bay, an amphibious dock landing ship, and the USS Lake Erie, a guided-missile cruiser, were denied entry to Hong Kong by the Chinese foreign ministry, which has authority over diplomatic and defense affairs in the former British colony.
The two warships hoped to stop by the city this weekend and next month, having wrapped up missions in the South China Sea and South Pacific.
Beijing’s snub is unsurprising given it has been sparring with Washington over trade and the ongoing tumult in Hong Kong. Officials in Zhongnanhai and their underlings in the city government are agonizing over how to defuse public anger which has led to huge protests over the past two months that drew millions of Hongkongers on to the streets and shut down the city airport.
Aside from diplomatic posturing, it is believed that Beijing fears having hundreds of elite US troops arriving in Hong Kong may exacerbate the turmoil in the unruly city, or hinder the deployment of Chinese soldiers if that was deemed necessary to restore order.
Beijing has bristled with increasingly bellicose rhetoric in response to Hong Kong’s protracted protests and open revolt against its sovereignty, while signaling that it has soldiers garrisoned in the city and massed along the border.
It has also tried to claim that Washington is one of the main “agitators” responsible for the unrest.
Washington, for its part, says it has been monitoring the “congregation” of troops near Hong Kong. Donald Trump called for calm in a tweet on Wednesday, citing intelligence about the troop movements.
Our Intelligence has informed us that the Chinese Government is moving troops to the Border with Hong Kong. Everyone should be calm and safe!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 13, 2019
However, a spokesperson for the Pacific Fleet said they had hoped the longstanding tradition of port calls by US warships, which extends back to Hong Kong’s colonial era, could continue despite the ebb and flow of US-China relations.
The Green Bay, a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, carries an expeditionary battalion of about 700 marines from Okinawa and was part of an amphibious group involved recently in this year’s Exercise Talisman Saber, a biennial joint exercise off northeastern Australia.
The Beijing-based Global Times revealed that an electronic reconnaissance ship from the Chinese Navy also sailed close to the exercise zone and shadowed the Green Bay and warships of the American and Australia navies.
The Lake Erie, a guided-missile cruiser, is now in service with the Seventh Fleet, based in Yokosuka in central Japan.
It is the second time that Beijing has rejected port calls by US vessels within the past 12 months.
In October, Beijing also turned down a call by the USS Wasp, yet in a flip-flop it did not ban the strike group led by the nuclear-powered flattop Ronald Reagan from cruising into Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor the following month. The high-profile landfall saw thousands of troops taking part in community outreach programs and comparing notes with Chinese seamen.