January 30, 2008:
Honk Kong is open for business again, at
least as far as the U.S. Navy is concerned. On January 28th, the USS Blue Ridge
visited Hong Kong, and its crew of 700 went ashore for some R&R. The port
has been off-limits to the U.S. Navy since last November, and no is sure why.
It all began in late November, when Chinese
authorities in Hong Kong refused to allow two U.S. Navy minesweepers to take
shelter in Hong Kong harbor, to escape a storm and refuel. This is considered a
very hostile act in peacetime. The "law of the sea" calls for ships
to be allowed shelter from storms in peacetime, and breeching this custom is
considered a shameful act. The Chinese offered no explanation for their action.
Then, despite having granted permission
months ago, Chinese authorities in Hong Kong suddenly withdrew permission for another
three American warships to visit Hong Kong. No explanation was given, and the
Hong Kong business community saw millions of dollars in business go away. The
American ships carried over 8,000 sailors. Moreover, hundreds of family members
of sailors had flown to Hong Kong at their own expense, to share the U.S.
Thanksgiving holiday (celebrated on November 22nd last year), were left high
American diplomats and military
officials tried to find out what was going on, but were met with conflicting
reasons from Chinese officials. Apparently there was a dispute within the
Chinese leadership, and shutting down Hong Kong to U.S. warships was one of the
side effects. This infuriated the Hong Kong business community, which makes
lots of money from these visits. U.S. officials got the impression that the
Hong Kong big shots sorted it all out, didn't want to discuss the details, and were eager to go back to business as
usual. The Hong Kong economy depends a lot on tourism and recreational visits
by foreign warships. Always has, and wants to keep it that way.