HONG KONG - Two U.S. Navy ships made a port call in Hong Kong on Thursday, the first such visit since China turned a U.S. aircraft carrier away from visiting the territory five months ago.
The two warships, carrying about 3,600 sailors and marines in total, are the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard and the amphibious transport dock Green Bay.
Rear Adm. Marc Dalton, head of the U.S. 7th Fleet’s amphibious force, said the ships were recently operating in the Western Pacific, in the vicinity of Guam and Okinawa, but had not experienced any trouble with Chinese vessels operating in the same area.
“We have encountered nothing but professional mariner behavior from the Chinese vessels we interacted with,” Dalton told a number of reporters invited to a boat tour, without revealing the locations of the interactions.
Chinese strong assertion of its claims to disputed waters of the East China Sea and the South China Sea has alarmed some countries in the region, including Japan, while the U.S. military has vowed to continue to sail, fly and operate anywhere international law allows.
Dalton also declined to comment on China’s “political” decision to reject a port call request made by aircraft carrier John Stennis last in April.
“I have only been in command since August. That all happened before I was out here. I can’t really have an opinion on it. Any issue (of the kind) would be political and (I) leave that to the diplomats,” he said.
China turned down the port call request shortly after U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter had visited the Stennis with his Philippine counterpart as the carrier sailed near the main Philippine island of Luzon, to underscore the U.S. commitment to its treaty ally amid heightened tensions with China.
During the latest port call, some U.S. marines and sailors will conduct community exchanges, including visiting schools and playing basketball with local students, Dalton said.