When a foreign nation --- host of the 2008 summer Olympics and one that manufactures a mushrooming number of goods gobbled up in the U.S. --- does an unexpected about face and refuses entry of several U.S. Navy ships to one of its often-visited ports, that should trigger front-page coverage. However, most U.S. media were snoozing during the prolonged incident over the past week involving China, Hong Kong and U.S. Navy brass, observes Grumpy Editor.
It started while the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk was steaming toward Hong Kong where several hundred friends and family members of sailors and Marines on board were to mark the Thanksgiving holiday. Plans were made. Airline tickets were bought. Hong Kong hotel rooms were booked.
The Kitty Hawk’s visit earlier had been cleared with the Chinese.
With the aircraft carrier enroute for the port call, the Chinese surprisingly turned away the vessel, offering no explanation. Then the Chinese, just as mysteriously, later granted permission for the visit. By then, however, the Kitty Hawk was returning to its home port in Yokosuka, Japan.
The Pentagon lodged a formal protest over the incident, calling it “baffling and regrettable.” Sailors and Marines on board used other, saltier words.
Around the same time, Navy admirals also were angry over China nixing U.S. minesweepers Patriot and Guardian that were seeking refuge in Hong Kong from a major storm. The ships also sought to refuel in that port rather than on rough high seas.
While overseas media, including Reuters, AFP and Kyodo news agencies and especially The Financial Times of London, covered the nautical tiff, most U.S. media, with exceptions, ignored the event.
Also silent: The White House.
A week later, China’s foreign minister reportedly told President Bush the refusal of U.S. Navy ships to enter Hong Kong was a “misunderstanding.”
Among the few U.S. media covering the story in detail was The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk. Washington staffer Dale Eisman reported details yesterday. Also with a comprehensive report yesterday was the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, with a story by staffer Chris Fowler from Yokosuka, where the Kitty Hawk docked “under a storm of controversy over China’s decision.” The New York Times reported on the situation Tuesday.