The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific has criticized China for denying three U.S. Navy ships access to Hong Kong Harbor in recent weeks, saying the decisions were not responsible. The commander spoke with reporters at the Pentagon via satellite from his headquarters in Hawaii. VOA's Al Pessin reports.

Admiral Timothy Keating said the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk and its support ships were scheduled to visit Hong Kong over the American Thanksgiving holiday last week, but Chinese authorities denied permission to enter the city's harbor at the last minute.

"This is perplexing. It's not helpful," he said. "It is not, in our view, conduct that is indicative of a country that understands its obligations as a responsible nation."

The admiral says hundreds of family members of the task force's crew had flown to Hong Kong at their own expense to meet the ship and spend the holiday with their loved ones. He says China later granted permission for the Kitty Hawk to visit, but by then the ship had changed course and it was too late to return.

Admiral Keating says another incident a few days earlier was even more disturbing. He says two small Navy ships that hunt for mines at sea were caught in an unexpected storm and asked for permission to enter Hong Kong Harbor for safety. China denied the request and the ships rode out the storm at sea.

"This is a kind of an unwritten law among seamen that if someone is in need, regardless of genus, phylum or species, you let them come in," he said. "You give them safe harbor. So this is an area that causes us a little more concern. And that is behavior that we do not consider consonant with a nation who advocates a 'peaceful rise' and harmonious relations."

Admiral Keating said he hopes the difficulty with access to Hong Kong Harbor does not continue, and he says U.S. officials will address the issue with their Chinese counterparts. He says he does not want to reduce military cooperation with China, but rather to increase dialogue and joint training in order to avoid misunderstandings in the future.

"We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to work our way around some of these aggravations, if you will," he said. "We hope none of the aggravations are from us. We think they're all from them. As the Olympics loom larger and the summer of 2008 comes upon us, we are hopeful that the behavior of the Chinese will be more like that of other responsible countries."

The admiral reported he hopes to make his second official visit to China in January, during which he said he will discuss the access issue, as well as concerns he has about the expansion of Chinese military capabilities, some of which he says indicate "a little more aggressive strategic goal" than China has publicly stated.

He referred specifically to new weapons, training programs, a naval expansion and improvements in Chinese air-to-air combat skills. The admiral also repeated concerns about potential military applications of China's space program, including its anti-satellite weapon and apparent lack of concern about the space debris the weapon's test caused in January.