China said yesterday it would allow the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier into Hong Kong for a long-planned Thanksgiving visit, after US officials complained that permission had been mysteriously withheld.
The US State Department said on Wednesday the Kitty Hawk and accompanying ships had been denied access last minute, just as the crew of 8,000 sailors and airmen were to celebrate the annual US holiday.
The Chinese foreign ministry announced early yesterday afternoon that the Kitty Hawk had finally been allowed entry, but remained silent on the reason for the delay in giving permission.
"We have decided to allow the Kitty Hawk ... to stay in Hong Kong during Thanksgiving. It is a decision out of humanitarian consideration only. China has informed the US of this," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao (
However he refused to be drawn on repeated questions as to why.
"I'm not in a position to let you know the specific approval procedures," Liu said when asked about the apparent backflip.
In Washington, officials said earlier they were unclear as to why the sailors appeared to have been denied entry into Hong Kong, a port city with a thriving nightlife that has attracted international sailors for decades.
"The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not give an explanation for its denial," State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson said on Wednesday. "The United States is pressing the Chinese foreign ministry for an explanation and for a reconsideration."
The flap comes just weeks after China and the US agreed during US Defense Secretary Robert Gates's trip to Beijing to improve military links, including a proposed joint naval exercise.
The trip was an effort to calm tensions between the two countries, which have been simmering for months over the build-up of Chinese military capabilities.
US carriers are regular visitors to Hong Kong waters and have visited at least twice this year.