China Suspends U.S. Navy Port Calls in Hong Kong

Members of the 7th Fleet Band perform the national anthem for dignitaries aboard USS Blue Ridge, Hong Kong, April 2019 (USN)

Published Dec 2, 2019 6:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

In response to a newly-enacted American law supporting Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, Beijing has suspended the U.S. Navy's port calls in the city, a fixture on U.S. 7th Fleet's sailing schedules for years. 

"Recently, in disregard of China’s opposition, the U.S. signed into law the so-called Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act," said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying in opening her daily briefing Monday."In response to the unreasonable U.S. practice, the Chinese government decides to suspend reviewing requests of US military vessels and aircraft to visit Hong Kong starting from today."

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act requires the executive branch to review the status of civil liberties and political autonomy in Hong Kong and advise Congress on whether the city still deserves its own privileged, separate trade status. It also imposes sanctions on Chinese government officials found to have abused the rights of protesters. 

It is the second time in recent months that Beijing has interceded to prevent the U.S. Navy from calling in Hong Kong. In August, Chinese authorities denied port call requests for the cruiser USS Lake Erie and the amphib USS Green Bay. The last publicized port call that the service made in Hong Kong was in April, when the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge hosted politicians and dignitaries aboard in Hong Kong's harbor. 

Hong Kong is part of China, but it enjoys an additional measure of political freedom due to the historical circumstances of its status as a former British territory. For six months, tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong have marched in the streets in response to a perceived Chinese threat to the city's autonomy. The demonstrations have grown increasingly violent, with the use of improvised weapons by protesters and allegedly excessive use of force by riot police.

Last week, the city's population delivered a major show of support for the protests by giving pro-democracy candidates 90 percent of the seats in local elections. Beijing grudgingly acknowledged the result on Monday, but it claimed that the vote was tainted by "the illegal activities of the opposition camp." 

The Chinese government has also blamed "external forces" for the unrest in Hong Kong. In her remarks Monday, Hua Chunying accused Western NGOs of playing an "egregious role in the Hong Kong amendment bill disturbance," naming the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), Freedom House and Human Rights Watch (HRW). All are based in the United States, and all but HRW are funded in whole or in part by the U.S. government.