The Chinese government has given no explanation for why it suddenly refused and then later allowed a United States naval carrier group to dock in Hong Kong as scheduled. The unexplained delay came as a surprise to many as the U.S. and Chinese militaries seemed to be improving relations. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.
China's Foreign Ministry Thursday offered no explanation as to why Chinese authorities initially refused to allow a visit to Hong Kong by the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier group.
The boats carrying 8,000 sailors to Hong Kong for the Thanksgiving holiday had been scheduled to arrive Wednesday. But shortly before they arrived, the Navy was told the ships would not be allowed to anchor in the harbor.
U.S. officials said they were caught by surprise by the cancellation, and had received no explanation from the Foreign Ministry.
China made an abrupt about-face, Thursday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said Beijing would allow the ships into Hong Kong after all.
"We have already decided to allow the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier group to stay in Hong Kong for rest and reorganization during Thanksgiving. It is based completely on humanitarianism. China has already informed the U.S. of this decision," he said.
Liu gave no explanation for the delay, saying only that the process for approving port calls was based on the principles of "sovereignty" and the "concrete situation."
U.S. officials had expressed disappointment at the initial refusal, saying that many American families had flown to Hong Kong to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with relatives serving in the Navy.
Analysts said the initial refusal seemed to indicate China was upset with the U.S. for some reason, but struggled for an explanation.
David Zweig is a professor of political science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
"Everybody's scrambling around Hong Kong today and East Asia trying to explain this, and nobody has any understanding," he said. "So, we're groping. It seems quite strange and quite surprising."
The Chinese move comes as military relations with the U.S. seem to be improving following a visit by the U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this month.
During Gates' visit the U.S. and China agreed to set up a hotline to prevent misunderstandings that could lead to conflict.
The two sides also agreed to increase military exchanges.
The Kitty Hawk is based in Japan. It is due to leave Japan for good and be decommissioned next year.