Page last updated at 10:11 GMT, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Nimitz docks in Hong Kong despite China tensions

USS Nimitz arrives in Hong Kong (17 Feb 2010)
Some 5,000 sailors will disembark from the Nimitz and four other ships

The American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS Nimitz, has arrived in Hong Kong at a time of strained relations between the US and China.

Less than two weeks ago Beijing said it would suspend military contacts with the US in protest over Washington's sale of arms to Taiwan.

The visit also comes just before US President Barack Obama meets Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

China previously refused permission for a US naval visit to Hong Kong in 2007.

In recent weeks China has expressed anger over the two issues most sensitive to Beijing - Taiwan and Tibet.

China has demanded that Mr Obama cancel a scheduled meeting with the Dalai Lama at the White House on Thursday.

Diplomatic links

The Nimitz and four accompanying ships will send more than 5,000 sailors ashore on this visit.

The four-day rest stop comes after the carrier group spent five months in the north Arabian Sea as a base for air combat missions in Afghanistan.

"Hong Kong is a vibrant city and a favourite port of call for our sailors. We look forward to an enjoyable stay here," said the ship's commander, Rear Adm John W Miller.

He said it was "a routine port visit" requested through the normal channels, but that he was "delighted" the ship was granted permission to dock.

Rear Adm John Miller in Hong Kong (17 Feb 2010)
Rear Adm Miller said China and US were in agreement on many issues

"There are a lot of areas where nations that don't always agree on a variety of issues can find agreement," he said.

Rear Adm Miller cited China's recent joining of multi-nation efforts to tackle piracy in shipping lanes off the Somali coast as "an excellent example of what like-minded nations can do in various parts of the world".

Hong Kong has been a favourite destination for US sailors since the days of the Vietnam War.

Such visits were regular and non-controversial when Hong Kong was still a British colony, but China has, on occasion, banned port visits since it took over sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997.

The USS Kitty Hawk was denied entry in 2007 in what some analysts said was a retaliation after the US Congress awarded its highest civilian honour to the Dalai Lama.

In August last year, China rejected a requested port call in Hong Kong by Japan's navy.

China's state-run China Daily said at the time that there was good reason to block the requested naval visit, citing trips to Japan by the Dalai Lama and Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer - considered separatists by Beijing.

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