It is hard to know where to start with the bizarre tale of the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and its misfortune off the coast of Hong Kong.
Beijing's refusal to allow the Kitty Hawk and its supporting vessels to dock in Hong Kong was not a subtle dig between wordsmith diplomats; it made a mockery of the US Navy and -- worse -- on Thanksgiving, possibly the most important holiday for families in the US, let alone for sailors on active duty and loved ones who wasted good money to meet them in Hong Kong.
Then there were the minesweepers, the USS Patriot and USS Guardian, whose similar misfortune of denied access was a slap in the face of the nautical tradition of haven for ships in danger.
It was clear from the confusion surrounding the 2001 Hainan Island crisis -- when a US spy plane was shadowed and struck by a Chinese jet and then forced to land on Chinese soil -- that the Chinese military and the communist leadership are not always on the same page.
The same phenomenon preceded the launch of a satellite-busting missile in January: Chinese government spokespeople seemed genuinely unaware of the matter until it was brought out into the open by foreign specialists.
In the case of the Hong Kong incident, however, the Chinese knew well in advance of -- and had apparently approved -- the visit.
The resulting snub has since been denied and confirmed all over again, depending on which Chinese official or state-controlled media outlet is doing the talking.
If Beijing cannot coordinate its political actions and responses with even the barest aptitude in a time of peace, it hardly bodes well for China, Taiwan and the region if a genuine military emergency were to unfold.
Describing the actions of the Chinese over refusing safe haven for the minesweepers, Admiral Tim Keating, the head of the US Pacific Command, said: "It is not, in our view, conduct that is indicative of a country who understands its obligations as a responsible nation."
Strong language, indeed.
But it points to an even uglier truth, and that is that China -- on international relations, human rights, disease control and notification, environmental protection, quality control in trade and any other number of critical matters -- is a country that is, indeed, chronically unable to understand its obligations as a responsible nation.
One of China's biggest success stories has been keeping this truth hidden from view as cleverly as possible.
And for those who pry further, the stock response is that China is a different kind of country that deserves special treatment.
Now, by gratuitously infuriating the most powerful military on the planet, we can see that even these fundamental tactics are beyond Beijing's capabilities, let alone explaining away the deep-seated hostility toward the US that prompted the saga.
It will be fascinating to chart the fallout.
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