China Rejects U.S. Warship’s Visit Amid Trade War Tensions

August 28: China has denied an American warship permission to visit a Chinese port, the United States Navy said on Wednesday, an apparent reflection of flaring trade and military tensions between the two countries.

Cmdr. Reann Mommsen, a spokeswoman for the Navy’s Seventh Fleet, confirmed the denial in an email and referred further questions to the Chinese government. China’s Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to faxed requests for comment.

The United States announced the denial in the same month that it said two American warships had also been denied permission to dock in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese territory. The latest denial, for permission to dock in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao, was first reported by Reuters.

The moves come as the trade war between China and the United States intensifies, and after nearly three months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, a financial hub that is essential to the Chinese economy. Beijing has, without providing evidence, blamed the Hong Kong unrest on foreign “black hands” that it says are bent on fomenting an uprising in the former British colony.

Qingdao, along with Hong Kong and Shanghai, are ports where American warships have typically docked in the past. Such port visits have been common over the years, and combine diplomacy and public relations with much needed shore leaves for sailors and Marines.

But China has occasionally denied the warships permission to dock, often at times of heightened tensions between the two countries.

“Whenever there are frictions, you expect this sort of thing to happen,” said Collin Koh Swee Lean, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore who studies naval affairs in the region.

Reuters said the American ship was a destroyer, and that the last Navy ship to visit Qingdao was also a destroyer, in 2016.

Mr. Koh said that China may have denied planned port visits to Hong Kong earlier this month — by an American guided-missile cruiser and a transport ship — out of a fear that allowing them to dock amid antigovernment demonstrations could embolden protesters.

By contrast, he said, the latest denial was likely a response to the trade war, which is hurting the Chinese economy, the world’s second-largest.

Another likely factor, he added, was the Trump administration’s recent decision to move forward with an $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, the single largest of its kind in many years. China said in July that it would impose sanctions on American companies involved in arms sales to Taiwan, calling the move “a serious violation of international law and the norms governing international relations.”

But while the People’s Liberation Army probably wanted to make a public gesture of displeasure to appease nationalist elements at home, it also places a premium on maintaining military stability with the United States, Mr. Koh said. For that reason, he added, the P.L.A. is unlikely to escalate its response any further — for example, by canceling some of the various military and maritime cooperation agreements that it has signed with the United States.

“At the end of the day, China doesn’t want to be seen as a pariah state,” Mr. Koh said.

Qingdao’s naval base, which opened in 1950, a year after the People’s Republic of China was founded, is among the country’s oldest and most strategically important. It lies about 1,000 miles west of Yokosuka, Japan, the site of the largest United States naval base in the world.

The Chinese base, in the eastern province of Shandong, hosts the country’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, and is the headquarters of the North Sea fleet, which operates in waters around Japan and the Korean Peninsula.

In April, China held a ceremony in Qingdao to commemorate the 70th anniversary of its navy’s founding.

“There must be more discussions and consultations between countries,” President Xi Jinping told a group of foreign naval officers at the event, in remarks carried by China’s official Xinhua news agency. He added that countries should not resort to “force or threats of force at the slightest pretext.”

Source: New York Times/ Mike Ives

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