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February 18, 2010

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US warships make HK port call

FIVE American warships docked for a port call in Hong Kong yesterday.

Carrying some 5,000 sailors, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and four other ships arrived in Hong Kong waters for a four-day rest stop after spending five months in the North Arabian Sea as a base for air combat missions in Afghanistan, the USS Nimitz public affairs office said in a statement.

With its abundance of foreigner-friendly restaurants, bars and shops, Hong Kong has long been a favored stop for US warships. Some of the sailors in the USS Nimitz strike group soon spilled ashore to the lively Wanchai bar district.

China blocked a long-scheduled Hong Kong port call by the USS Kitty Hawk in November 2007 at the last minute. Some analysts viewed the move as retaliation after the US Congress awarded its highest civilian honor to the Dalai Lama.

The monk is also at the center of recent Sino-US tensions. US President Barack Obama is scheduled to see the Dalai today in a meeting condemned by China.

That meeting - along with trade disputes, and the US announcement of a US$6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan - has made for rough relations.

The commander of the USS Nimitz strike group declined to comment on the politics behind the port call yesterday.

"For us, this is a routine port visit," Rear Admiral John W. Miller said. "We requested the port visit through normal channels and we're certainly delighted that we received permission from (China's) Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be able to come in."

The visiting American sailors will tour Hong Kong Disneyland, Macau and the southern cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou.


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