Beijing and Washington play down row over US ship barred from HK The row over the USS Kitty Hawk showed signs of cooling down yesterday with the United States calling it a 'small incident' and mainland media reports emphasising strong Sino-US ties. 'I think the [US] president believes we have good relations with China,' White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said on Thursday. 'We work co-operatively with China on so many different issues. This is one small incident. And ... in the big scheme of things we have very good relations. 'We have been in communication with the Chinese. We are asking them to clarify the reasons that the Kitty Hawk was turned back. I think we will get it and then we will be able to move beyond this.' The comments by Ms Perino came as the US Navy confirmed that the Kitty Hawk and its eight accompanying ships sailed through the tense Taiwan Strait on their way back to Japan after being denied entry in Hong Kong. 'USS Kitty Hawk carrier strike group has transited the Taiwan Strait,' US Navy spokesman Shane Tuck said. 'This was a normal navigational transit of international waters, and the route selection was based on operational necessity, including adverse weather.' The Taiwan Strait is considered one of Asia's most dangerous flashpoints and Beijing maintains a high degree of vigilance over its traffic, especially the presence of foreign naval vessels. On Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao took many by surprise when he said reports that Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had said the saga over the Kitty Hawk stemmed from a misunderstanding 'do not accord with the facts'. But he did not clarify what Mr Yang had actually said. Nor did he explain why the US aircraft carrier and its accompanying fleet were initially refused permission to dock in Hong Kong waters last week. He stressed only that in dealing with Kitty Hawk's request to call in at Hong Kong, Beijing followed its established principles. The authorities eventually gave the aircraft carrier approval out of 'humanitarian considerations', but by then Kitty Hawk had already turned back to Japan. Two US minesweepers were refused port entry to Hong Kong a few days earlier when they sought fuel and shelter from a storm. The practice of US Navy ships calling at Hong Kong has become what experts call 'routine', prompting speculation that the rejections were intended to show Beijing's displeasure over the US' recent sales of upgrades to Taiwan's missile-defence system, or its high-profile reception of the Dalai Lama. Mr Liu did not comment on the accuracy of this speculation, but admitted that the two incidents 'disturbed and impaired' the otherwise generally smooth development of US-Sino relations. US Navy officials had called the rejections 'perplexing' and 'troublesome'. The Pentagon said it had issued 'a formal protest' on Wednesday, which Mr Liu denied receiving. However, actions from both sides yesterday indicated a desire to contain the incident. Ms Perino stressed the 'big picture' and seized on the incident to push for the installation of a crisis hotline between the two countries, saying it could defuse similar situations in the future. US President George W Bush and President Hu Jintao agreed on the hotline three months ago. 'I don't think it's up and running yet, but this underscores the need for it,' Ms Perino said. Whether Beijing will supply a straightforward explanation in the end is hard to say, but Xinhua, which had remained silent on the Kitty Hawk saga, published stories yesterday highlighting the US' positive reaction to the incident. Mr Liu's comments on the Kitty Hawk at a regular Foreign Ministry press briefing were removed from the official transcript of the briefing, limiting reports by other Chinese media. Sino-US relations expert Shi Yinhong , of Renmin University, said the latter action suggested a solution to the row may have been found. 'Whether there is an actual explanation does not matter. It is not a big incident and both sides have already vented their displeasure,' Professor Shi said. 'What's most important is the sincere desire on both sides not to allow it to affect bilateral relations.'