HONG KONG – A US aircraft carrier arrived in Hong Kong Wednesday amid heightened tension between Washington and Beijing over arms sales to Taiwan and President Barack Obama's plan to meet the Dalai Lama.
The stop by the USS Nimitz, one of the world's largest warships, came just weeks after China said it would suspend military and security contacts with the United States over Washington's 6.4-billion-dollar arms package for Taipei.
It also coincided with a trip to Washington by exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama for a long-awaited meeting with Obama, a visit that has infuriated Beijing which has denounced him as a separatist bent on independence for his Himalayan homeland.
Rear Admiral John Miller, commander of the nuclear-powered carrier, said China and the United States could work together on areas such as maritime security even if they disagreed on other issues.
China's assistance in fighting piracy off the coast of Africa was an "excellent example of what like-minded nations can do in various parts of the world," Miller told a press conference held on the ship.
"There are a lot of areas where nations that don't always agree on a variety of issues can find agreement," he said.
"To ensure stability in the maritime environment, any nation can be part of that."
Miller played down the significance of the port call amid the simmering Sino-US tensions: "For us, this is a routine port visit. I don't know this was any different from any other visit we have made."
The navy commander said he was "not really sure" if Chinese naval officials had been invited aboard the ship.
About 5,000 sailors from the carrier and its accompanying fleet will be sent ashore for sightseeing and community service projects during the four-day visit.
The US Consulate in Hong Kong said last week they had received clearance for the Nimitz visit from Beijing, which has control over the city's defence and foreign affairs after the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.
The US State Department welcomed the approval and said the visit would boost ties between the people and militaries of both countries.
"We think it is an important part of not only our outreach and engagement with the Chinese people but an important dimension of our military-to-military relationship," department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters in Washington.
Beijing has said the arms package for Taiwan violates a US pledge to reduce weapons sales to the island, which China considers part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
The last US arms package for Taiwan, announced under previous president George W. Bush in October 2008, led China to cut off military relations with the United States temporarily.
In 2007, China denied a scheduled port call in Hong Kong by another warship, the USS Kitty Hawk, which some observers viewed as a response to the US Congress awarding its highest civilian honour to the Dalai Lama.
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