Chinese warships to visit U.S. state for first time in 6 years

Tuesday, September 5th 2006, 10:19 pm
By: News On 6

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) -- Chinese warships are scheduled to sail into Pearl Harbor on Wednesday for exercises with the U.S. military -- the first visit by a Chinese navy ship to a U.S. state in six years.

The port call, aimed at deepening understanding between the U.S. and Chinese navies, comes as the two Pacific powers cautiously rebuild military relations that collapsed after a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese jet fighter collided off the coast of China in 2001.

The Qingdao, a Luhu-class guided missile cruiser, and the Hongzehu, a refueling ship, are due to arrive at Pearl Harbor for four days of exercises, personnel exchanges, and touring.

The vessels are scheduled to head to California on Saturday -- either to San Diego or Long Beach -- before sailing to the Canadian port of Victoria and the Philippines on their way home.

The trip marks the first visit by a Chinese warship to the U.S. since 2000, when the Qingdao visited Pearl Harbor and Everett, Wash. In 2003, two Chinese navy vessels called on Guam, a U.S. territory in the Western Pacific.

Capt. Joseph Skinner, who heads the Pacific Command's Northeast Asia planning, said Tuesday the visit offered the United States an opportunity to learn more about an emerging naval power.

"Many of the countries in the region are concerned when they start buying submarines, when they start buying cruise missiles, ships," Skinner said. "Is it a peaceful intention or military projection of power in the future?"

Capt. Jeff Alderson, a Pacific Command spokesman, said the port visit was a building block toward establishing better ties that could help the United States avoid situations like the spy plane collision.

"We didn't know who to call. We didn't know what to do, we couldn't talk to each other," Alderson said of the 2001 incident when a Chinese fighter veered into a Navy EP-3 surveillance plane in international airspace over the Sea of Japan. The Chinese pilot died and the damaged American plane was forced to make an emergency landing.

The top U.S. Pacific commander, Adm. William Fallon, has visited China three times since taking office about 18 months ago. He has urged China to be more transparent about what it plans to do with its growing military power.