China denied a US warship entry to Hong Kong in October, just days after Washington sanctions the Chinese military for purchasing Russian weapons.
On September 26th, the US consulate in Hong Kong confirmed that China had denied a request for the port call by the U.S. Navy’s amphibious assault ship the USS Wasp.
“The Chinese Government did not approve a request for a U.S. port visit to Hong Kong by the USS Wasp,” Darragh Paradiso, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, said in an email. “We have a long track record of successful port visits to Hong Kong, and we expect that will continue.”
The move comes after on September 20th the US sanctioned China’s Equipment Development Department — the agency that oversees the country’s defense technology — and its director Li Shangfu for allegedly engaging in the purchase of Russian combat aircraft and S-400 surface-to-air missiles, which it called a violation of American sanctions.
The US State Department said its actions against Li and his department weren’t intended to undermine the military capabilities or combat readiness of any country, but rather to impose costs on Russia in response to its interference in the US election process. The Kremlin dismissed the sanctions as an “unfair” move to undercut Russia as a major arms exporter.
Beijing’s top naval officer, Shen Jinlong also canceled a high-level meeting with his U.S. counterpart, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn as cited by the CNN. According to Collin Koh Swee Lean, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, this is China’s way of “showing displeasure without crossing the line into something more serious.”
Despite that US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he is “looking for a way ahead” after China recalled Shen Jinlong. “We believe that we do have to have a relationship with China and Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo and I are of one mind on this,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon. “And so, we’re sorting out the way ahead right now.”
But given China’s attempts to resolve trade frictions with the Trump administration via conciliation, Koh said it was unlikely it would provoke the U.S. military into a more serious confrontation.
According to him, the action isn’t a separate phenomenon, but rather a part of a process. “We need to look at the broader context of the ongoing trade war between the two countries,” he said. “In China, they are debating how they can respond and there are hawks who say, ‘we have to strike back,” he said.
In response to the sanctions, China summoned the US ambassador and the defense attache, in addition to recalling its navy commander from his US trip. The Chinese The Defense Ministry said the US had no right to interfere in Chinese military cooperation with Russia.
“We demand that the US immediately correct the mistake and revoke the so-called sanctions, otherwise the US must bear the consequences,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Ambassador Terry Branstad. The Central Military Commission, which commands the People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest standing military, said that Huang Xueping, the commission’s deputy head for international military cooperation, had also summoned the acting U.S. defense attache on September 22nd.
“The Chinese military reserves the right to take further countermeasures,” Huang was quoted as saying.
This comes amid escalations in tensions in the South China Sea, with the US flying B-52 nuclear capable bombers above the South China Sea, refusing to respect China’s claims over the region. The US has also picked up sailing and flying over the region, dismissing any Chinese protests.
According to Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman, who was cited Business Insider the B-52 flights were a matter of course and not a provocation.
“The movement of these aircraft require them to fly multiple routes, to include in the vicinity of the South China Sea, part of regularly scheduled operations designed to enhance our interoperability with our partners and allies in the region. The United States military will continue to fly sail and operate wherever international law allows at a times and places of our choosing,” Eastburn said in an email.
Furthermore, on September 25th, China asked Britain to respect its territorial integrity and not risk the trust between the two nations after a British warship conducted a freedom-of-navigation exercise in the South China Sea.
British outlet the Express dubbed its article on the Britain-China exchange a “World War 3 Warning.” However, it was actually Foreign Minister Wang Yi who made the request during a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, according to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Chinese foreign ministry said Wang had told Hunt about China’s stance regarding the South China Sea.
“I hope [Britain] can respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and do more to contribute to bilateral ties … rather than things that disturb mutual trust,” Wang was quoted as saying.
This all comes amid China’s efforts to boost its maritime capabilities. Tests on the Type-001A carrier were carried out on August 28th, the 055 Destroyer also underwent tests. With also China claiming to be making progress on AI-controlled submarines. China’s increasing naval power is a cause for concern for countries in the South China Sea region who dispute China’s claims on the waterway. The US also disputes China’s claims.