HONOLULU, Hawaii (AP) -- The top U.S. military commander in the Pacific said he is "perplexed and concerned" by China's last-minute decision to deny a U.S. aircraft carrier entry to Hong Kong for a previously scheduled port visit.
The USS Kitty Hawk, pictured in 2001 during Operation Enduring Freedom, is among the flotilla.
The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and its escort ships were due to dock there for a four-day visit Wednesday but were refused access.
Hundreds of family members had flown to Hong Kong to spend Thanksgiving with the sailors.
"It's hard to put any kind of positive spin on this," Adm. Timothy Keating told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday while flying back to the U.S. after visiting troops in Iraq.
"I'm perplexed and concerned."
China later reversed its decision, but by that time the aircraft carrier, along with four warships and a nuclear submarine, were already leaving the area under heavy weather. The vessels chose not to turn around. The Kitty Hawk and its strike group were on their way back to Yokosuka on Friday, a U.S. Navy offical said.
Beijing has given no reason why it refused the ships entry.
Asked repeatedly about the apparent reversal, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao declined to comment.
China has in the past barred U.S. Navy ships from Hong Kong in fits of pique over disputes in relations. In recent weeks, ties have been strained over disputes on trade and Iran's nuclear program as well as Congress's awarding a medal to the Dalai Lama, whom China's communist government considers an enemy.
The 46-year-old Kitty Hawk, which is based in the Japanese port city of Yokosuka, is the only U.S. aircraft carrier permanently deployed abroad.
The diesel-powered ship will be decommissioned next year and replaced by the nuclear-powered USS George Washington. E-mail to a friend
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