Angered By Washington's Support For Taiwan, China Bars Visit By U.S. Warship

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - In the latest gesture of its displeasure at Washington's policies, China has barred a U.S. warship from visiting Hong Kong.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said Tuesday port visits were considered on a case-by-case basis, and the decision was taken upon "an overall consideration of all the various factors."

USS Curtis Wilbur, a guided missile destroyer with the U.S. Seventh Fleet based in Japan, had applied for permission to make a routine visit April 5-9.

The official China Daily linked the refusal directly to Beijing's anger over a recent visit to the U.S. by a senior Taiwanese government official. Defense Minister Tang Yao-ming attended a private defense gathering in Florida, and also met senior administration officials.

The paper also noted that the barring of U.S. port visits had in the past occurred at times when China was particularly unhappy with the U.S. - during a standoff last spring over the downing of a U.S. surveillance plane following a midair collision with a Chinese fighter jet, and after the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was bombed during NATO's Kosovo war.

A subsidiary of the official People's Daily last week said China may cancel reciprocal Navy visits with the U.S. this year to "shake those hawkish people who are actively strengthening ties between the U.S. and Taiwan through arm sales."

Since the Taiwanese minister's visit, Chinese officials have twice summoned U.S. Ambassador Clark Randt to make their views on the matter clear.

The foreign ministry has warned of deterioration in recently improved relations unless the U.S. amends its policies. It has also suggested that a scheduled visit to the U.S. next month by Vice President Hu Jintao, the man expected to succeed President Jiang Zemin, could be affected by the row.

Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, meeting two visiting U.S. senators Tuesday, reiterated that the Taiwan question was the most pressing and sensitive issue between Beijing and Washington.

Tang's visit to the U.S. had constituted interference in China's internal affairs, and obstructed its efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Taiwan question, Zhu told Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

China regards Taiwan as a rebellious province, strongly resisting any move - by Taiwan or any other country - which it construes as extending its independence, and working consistently to isolate it diplomatically.

The U.S. on January 1, 1979 switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China, but continues to support and arm the island democracy.

Beijing has become accustomed to foreign governments acceding to its dictates over Taiwan. Under pressure, three European Union countries late last year refused to allow Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian to collect an international democracy award at a function on their soil.

And when President Bush earlier in 2001 offered to sell Taiwan diesel submarines no longer built by U.S. shipyards, European countries which do manufacture the vessels hastily made it clear they would not provide them on America's behalf.

Back in 1995, Taiwan's former President Lee Teng-hui, paid a private visit to the U.S. to deliver a speech at Cornell University, prompting an angry response from Beijing.

But the recent visit by the defense minister was possibly even more galling to the Chinese.

Even though the three-day conference in Florida - sponsored by the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council chaired by former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci - was a private affair, the State Department not only granted Tang a visa but also honored him with a brief meeting with James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Tang also held a more substantive meeting with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, thought to be the highest-level U.S.-Taiwan defense exchange since Washington withdrew recognition of Taipei in 1979.

Before Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997, U.S. Navy ships visited Hong Kong dozens of times a year. The visits have continued at a lower level since then.

A recent visit by the USS Germantown, a Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship, saw American sailors participate in three community service projects - at the Salvation Army, a facility for seriously ill children, and a homeless shelter.

Crew members also explored, socialized and shopped during the Feb. 25 - Mar. 2 visit, according to the Seventh Fleet's public affairs office.

See Also:
China: 'Freezing Wind' Cools Relations with US (March 21, 2002)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow