BEIJING – China's last-minute cancellation of a U.S. Navy visit to Hong Kong was not the result of a misunderstanding, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Thursday, adding that ties had been "disturbed and harmed" by Congress' honoring of the Dalai Lama and U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
Spokesman Liu Jianchao denounced an earlier report from Washington that said Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told President Bush the incident was a misunderstanding.
But Liu offered no concrete explanation as to why China barred the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and its escort vessels from entering Hong Kong harbor for a planned Thanksgiving visit.
"The report is not in line with the facts," Liu said at a regular news briefing.
He refused to elaborate, but his negative characterization of U.S.-China relations appeared to indicate that Beijing had canceled the visit deliberately in order to register its displeasure over U.S. actions, as it has done occasionally with previous Hong Kong port calls.
Liu said "erroneous" actions on the part of the U.S. had "disturbed and harmed" relations.
He pointed to Congress' awarding its highest civilian honor to the Dalai Lama last month. Although the Tibetan spiritual leader is lauded in much of the world as a figure of moral authority, Beijing demonizes the monk and claims he seeks to destroy China's sovereignty by pushing for independence for Tibet.
Also hurting relations were arms sales to Taiwan, an island which China regards as a renegade province, he said.
A White House spokeswoman said she was surprised by the explanation.
"That was not the president's understanding from the meeting he had yesterday (with Yang). We are seeking clarification," press secretary Dana Perino said.
"The president was told was there was a miscommunication that could lead to a misunderstanding. I was told there was a misunderstanding. ... The linkage was not made (with the Dalai Lama)," she said.
The Global Times, a tabloid published by the official party mouthpiece People's Daily, cited an unidentified People's Liberation Army senior colonel, as blaming Washington's decision to sell Taiwan an anti-missile defense system.
That "obviously sent the wrong signals" to Taiwan's leader, Chen Shui-bian, whom China abhors for his campaign to assert the self-ruling island's independent identity, the paper quoted the colonel as saying.
"At a time when the U.S. side is seriously harming China's interests, there is no logic under heaven by which China should then be expected to open its heart and embrace it," the paper said Thursday.
Beijing also had refused port entry earlier that week to two U.S. Navy minesweepers seeking to refuel and shelter from an approaching storm.
China eventually decided to allow the Kitty Hawk strike group's visit to Hong Kong, but only after the ships had already left the area. They did not turn back, instead continuing on to their home port in Japan.
"We have all along, on the principle of sovereignty, approved (port calls) on a case by case basis. Out of humanitarian considerations, we agreed to allow the strike group to make a port call," Liu said.
The Defense Department lodged an official protest of the Chinese moves Wednesday.