US Carrier Allowed Hong Kong Port Entry After Bombers Fly Over Contested Waters

Following Vice President Pence trading barbs with China's President Xi Jinping over the ongoing trade war during back-to-back speeches at an an unusually tense Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea over the weekend, a US Navy aircraft carrier strike group has entered Hong Kong's port early Wednesday in what appears a sign of easing military tensions

Beijing authorities granting the application for the port visit of the Navy aircraft carrier and three accompanying battleships comes less than two months after China previously denied a similar visit by a US warship.

A number of reports are interpreting the move as an attempt to ease tensions prior to Presidents Xi Jinping and Trump's expected meeting at next week's G-20 summit in Argentina. Significantly it also comes two days after the US Air Force flew two B-52 bombers over a contested area of the South China Sea where China has laid claim to international waters based on its military build-up on a chain of man-made and other islands. 

USS Ronald Reagan carrier. US Navy photo via CNN

The strike group includes the carrier USS Ronald Reagan, guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville, and guided-missile destroyers USS Benfold and USS Curtis Wilbur, which were all cleared to dock, confirmed by the the Hong Kong Maritime Department.

In October the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp was refused entry into semi autonomous Hong Kong's port, and prior to that in 2016 a US carrier strike group was also barred from docking — both instances due to increased tensions over waters in the South China Sea. 

Tensions were more recently on full display when in early October Chinese destroyers came within a dangerous 45 yards of the USS Decatur while the latter was engaged in a "freedom of navigation" operation near Chinese-claimed islands.

File photo of prior carrier group docking, via Wiki Commons

Meanwhile last Saturday the head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Phil Davidson, condemned what he described as a campaign of military intimidation in the South China Sea in a speech before the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia. 

"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 forum.

Come November 30 at the G-20 summit it's anyone's guess over whether Trump and Xi will take the opportunity of face-to-face private talks to agree to climb down from escalatory trade war policies or publicly ratchet up mutual condemnations further.

Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow's dire predictions issued in a Tuesday statement, saying he expects a direct confrontation over trade, suggests the latter is the more likely scenario. "It will come to a head at the G20, I think that's the key point," Kudlow told White House reporters.