The decision by authorities in Beijing to allow the US Navy to dock in the semi-autonomous Chinese city has been interpreted as an effort to ease tensions ahead of next week’s G-20 summit in Argentina, during which Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump are expected to meet.
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville, and guided-missile destroyers USS Benfold and USS Curtis Wilbur were cleared for the visit to Hong Kong, according to the Hong Kong Maritime Department.
Adm. Phil Davidson, the head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, said in speech Saturday that China was using a campaign of military intimidation in the South China Sea.
“They’re now violating the sovereignty of every other nation’s ability to fly, sail, and operate in accordance with international law,” Davidson told the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia.
Against such a backdrop, Wednesday’s move is likely to be interpreted as a goodwill gesture ahead of next week’s international summit.
The upcoming Argentina meeting is the only scheduled opportunity for a direct tête-à-tête between Trump and Xi, though the two leaders exchanged direct visits in 2017 — with Trump welcoming Xi at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
However, optimism has been growing in recent weeks that US and Chinese negotiators could reach some kind of a deal beforehand.
During the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Papua New Guinea last week, Xi spoke of the need for global cooperation and international trade and said there was no issue that countries couldn’t work out “through consultation.”
7,000 US military personnel
The presence of four US warships in Hong Kong will bring about 7,000 US military personnel to the Chinese territory.
The US warships come to Hong Kong after a week of exercises with the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier strike group in the Philippine Sea.
Two of the US ships, the Benfold and the Curtis Wilbur, have figured in US-China military tensions over past few years.