A senior member of the US House of Representatives is calling on the US Department of Defense to consider allowing US aircraft carriers to visit Taiwan.
The call comes in the wake of China’s decision last week to deny the USS John C. Stennis a long-scheduled stop in Hong Kong.
“China has repeatedly politicized the long-standing use of Hong Kong for carrier port visits, inconveniencing the families of thousands of US sailors, and continuing a pattern of unnecessary and disruptive behavior,” House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Chairman Randy Forbes said.
“As Beijing’s direct control of Hong Kong intensifies, the US Navy should strongly consider shifting its carrier port calls to more stable and welcoming locations,” Forbes said in a statement issued by his office.
“While China finds profit in needlessly harming our sailors’ families, many US allies and partners in the region, including Taiwan, would no doubt welcome our carriers and their crews with open arms. The time has come to consider these alternative locations going forward,” the statement said.
China denied permission for the USS Kitty Hawk to visit Hong Kong following a dispute over arms sale to Taiwan in 2007.
The White House on Monday said that the latest denial of entry to Hong Kong did not seem to signal a major change in Beijing’s policy.
“But I can’t speak to what the Chinese government may have had in mind by denying this request,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
The development comes at a time of rising tensions in the region as China appears to be increasing its military control of much of the South China Sea.
Last month, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visited the John C. Stennis as it sailed through the South China Sea at least in part as a US demonstration of international freedom of navigation rights.
“We want to reduce tensions, but we also want everybody in the region to be able to rise and develop it their own way,” Carter said on the deck of the carrier. “The only reason that question even comes up is because of what has gone on over the last year and that’s a question of Chinese behavior.”
“So, what’s new is not an American carrier in the region. What’s new is the context of tension which exists, which we want to reduce,” Carter said.
Some Pentagon sources believe that Beijing’s decision to deny the John C. Stennis permission to visit Hong Kong was directly related to it sailing through the South China Sea and Carter’s visit to the ship, which drew international attention.
The Taipei Times was unable to get any formal reaction on Monday night to Forbes’ suggestion that US aircraft carriers visit Taiwan. The White House and Pentagon did not return telephone calls on the subject.
Under the complex diplomatic rules that govern US-Taiwan relations, US Navy ships do not make official visits to Taiwan.
A visit by a US aircraft carrier would be certain to cause a huge protest by Beijing.
A Pentagon source told the Taipei Times that he thought it “highly unlikely” that US President Barack Obama would sanction such a visit.