Monday 7 January 2008

China expresses "grave concern" that USS Kitty Hawk passed Taiwan on way back to Japan

China said Tuesday it had expressed "grave concern" that the USS Kitty Hawk passed through the Taiwan Strait on its way back to Japan after it was barred from entering Hong Kong for a Thanksgiving port call.

Mainland Chinese authorities reversed their decision but by then the ships were too far out to sea and did not turn back.

"U.S. officials informed China at that time that it took the route because of a storm," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a briefing. "China expressed grave concern to the U.S. and requested the U.S. to take prudent moves in this highly sensitive area."

Before the Kitty Hawk incident, ties between the two sides were already frayed over the U.S. Congress giving the Dalai Lama its highest civilian honor and American arms sales to China's rival, Taiwan.

Although the Tibetan spiritual leader is lauded in much of the world as a figure of moral authority, Beijing demonizes the monk and claims he seeks to destroy China's sovereignty by pushing for independence for Tibet.China also still regards Taiwan part of its territory although the two split in 1949 during civil war and has threatened force if the island moves to formalize its de facto independence.

Washington's decision to sell Taiwan an anti-missile defense system has been a sensitive point with China, which says it encourages the self-ruling island's independent identity.

Washington encourages the sale of defensive weapons to Taiwan and is obligated by the Taiwan Relations Act to maintain sufficient force in the Pacific as a deterrent against China.

But the act does not require the defense of Taiwan by U.S. forces if the island comes under attack from the mainland.

In recent weeks, the Chinese have also denied entry to the USS Reuben James, a Navy frigate, and two Navy minesweepers.

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