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The US has had port visits denied by Chinese authorities twice this month. Photo: Alamy

China again blocks US Navy port visit as Qingdao request is denied

  • It follows Beijing’s decision earlier this month to turn down an application for two US Navy ships to visit Hong Kong
  • The countries have traded barbs about the handling of anti-government protests in the city

A US Navy warship was denied a port visit to the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao on Sunday, the US Indo-Pacific Command said on Wednesday.

The request denial comes at a time of heightened tensions between China and the United States, with the countries engaged in a prolonged trade dispute and a war of words over anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

“The PRC [People’s Republic of China] denied the US Navy’s request to visit the Qingdao Port,” Commander Reann Mommsen, public affairs officer for the US Seventh Fleet, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Mommsen declined to name the warship denied entry or when the request was refused, referring questions about the reasons to Beijing.

The blocked visit was first reported by Reuters, which cited an anonymous US defence official as saying that China had denied the request for the destroyer before the intended visit on Sunday.

It is the second time in a month that China has prevented US Navy vessels making a port call.

On August 13, the United States Pacific Fleet said China had denied requests for two US Navy ships to visit Hong Kong.

The USS Green Bay, an amphibious dock landing ship, had been due to make a port call in Hong Kong on August 17, and the guided missile cruiser USS Lake Erie was scheduled to visit next month, according to Nate Christensen, deputy spokesman for the Pacific Fleet.

A source close to the Chinese navy confirmed the Qingdao rejection, saying it was “normal practice” based on the current China-US relationship.

“Hasn’t the [US’] application to visit Hong Kong just been rejected?” the source asked.

Hong Kong has seen 12 weeks of anti-government protests, triggered by a now-shelved extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be transferred to mainland China.
Beijing has increasingly suggested the protests are being funded by the West, a claim the US has called “ludicrous”.

Zhou Chenming, a Beijing-based military expert, said the refusal was a natural result of the worsening bilateral ties between China and the US.

“Many bilateral exchanges are bound to deteriorate when countries’ ties worsen, such as during the China-US trade war. And now coupled with the Hong Kong unrest, many exchanges [between China and the US] have been downgraded,” Zhou said.

Liu Weidong, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, echoed Zhou’s view and said a visit from the US warship would be meaningless at present.

“Now the US is very provocative ... so China doesn’t want to welcome its warship,” Liu said.

Doubt has been cast on whether trade talks between the two countries are set to resume, with Beijing’s foreign ministry contradicting US President Donald Trump’s claim that China had sought a return to the negotiating table.

The countries had been due to speak on Tuesday, according to a previous statement from China’s Ministry of Commerce after their last telephone call on August 13. But there has been no announcement so far from either side on whether such a conversation took place.

Last week, China said it would levy retaliatory tariffs of 5 to 10 per cent on US$75 billion worth of US goods. The Trump administration responded by announcing a tariff increase from 25 to 30 per cent on US$250 billion of Chinese goods, and from 10 to 15 per cent on US$300 billion worth of Chinese products.

The US also designated Beijing as a currency manipulator, raising fears of an economic cold war between the two countries.

Additional reporting by Kristin Huang

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Another US Navy warship has port call blocked