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Monday, 9 July, 2001, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
US warships allowed in Hong Kong
USS Inchon [photo US Navy]
The USS Inchon was refused entry to the port in May
By Damian Grammaticas in Hong Kong

China has agreed to allow two US warships to make port calls in Hong Kong.

It is the first time Beijing has extended such co-operation to the US navy since the spy plane incident soured relations between the two countries earlier this year.

This is a small step by China, but a sign, perhaps, that some of the rancour caused by that incident is fading.

A spokeswoman for the US consulate in Hong Kong said Beijing has agreed to let two minesweepers, the USS Guardian and the USS Patriot, make routine stopovers later this month.

Olympic decision

The decision should help reduce tensions. When relations are normal, such stopovers are commonplace, and given to around 60 US warships each year.

Spy plane
The US-China spy plane row may be subsiding
But after the EP-3 surveillance aircraft collided with a Chinese fighter in April, Beijing refused to let the USS Inchon, a huge minesweeping vessel with 1,400 crew, dock in Hong Kong. China had taken the same retaliatory measures after American aircraft bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999.

The decision to allow these ships to make port calls in the territory was relayed to US officials just after the spy plane was flown back to the United States last week.

It also comes ahead of the decision on whether Beijing will be awarded the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games. China is anxious not to let anything interfere with its chances of staging the Games.

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See also:

29 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
China snubs US again
23 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
US backs Dalai Lama
07 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
US resumes spy plane flights
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