Hong Kong: The US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz sailed into Hong Kong on schedule on Wednesday despite a Chinese pledge to suspend military exchanges with the United States after its announced arms sales to Taiwan.
Speculation had swirled on whether China might prevent the Nimitz from visiting over the arms sales and in retaliation for a planned meeting between the Dalai Lama and US President Barack Obama in the White House on Thursday.
Hong Kong has been a favourite destination for US sailors on R&R since the Vietnam War. The Nimitz and four accompanying ships will send more than 5,000 sailors ashore on this visit.
The carrier group, anchored in the western reaches of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, sent its first batch of sailors to the city’s lively Wanchai district in the early afternoon.
“I love it — it’s my third time here,” said one of the sailors, who declined to be identified.
Tensions with Washington have arisen over issues ranging from trade and currencies to the US plan to sell $6.4 billion of weapons to self-ruled Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.
While US warships have long made periodic port calls to the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, China has barred US ships from entering at sensitive moments.
In 2007, the USS Kitty Hawk was denied entry to Hong Kong as it neared the city’s waters for a Thanksgiving visit. Analysts linked the denial to then US President George W Bush awarding the US Congressional Gold Medal, one of the country’s highest honours, to the Dalai Lama, whom China brands a separatist.
The Nimitz recently completed a 5-month tour of duty in the North Arabian Sea, where it supported US operations in Afghanistan. The carrier group will resume its routine deployment in the Western Pacific.