In a further sign of improving ties between the United States and China, a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group has docked in Hong Kong for a five-day visit. The port call is the biggest since an April 1 spy plane incident over the South China Sea damaged Sino-American relations.

Six warships accompanying the aircraft carrier, USS Constellation, cruised into Hong Kong harbor Monday morning, carrying an estimated 6,500 sailors. It is the first visit by a U.S. carrier here in nearly 15 months.

Constellation's port call follows the carrier's participation in a large military exercise with another carrier group in the South China Sea, Friday. The official Chinese media denounced the one-day drill - calling it a blatant show of force aimed at China.

Nevertheless, East Asian security expert David O'Rear says the Constellation's presence in Hong Kong shows Chinese willingness to patch up some of the diplomatic damage caused by the collision of a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet, four months ago. "I think," Mr. O'Rear said, "they decided there was no point in prolonging the poor relations between the United States and China and they were willing to make a gesture."

Two small U.S. mine-sweeping ships made a symbolic port call in Hong Kong last month. But the more significant carrier visit is expected to pump nearly $30 million into the struggling local economy.