TOKYO — China’s surprise rejection of a port visit by a U.S. aircraft carrier last week could signal a further escalation of tensions in the disputed South China Sea.
Chinese authorities refused last week to grant permission for the USS John C. Stennis battle group to make a routine port call at Hong Kong. It is the first time in nearly a decade that China has turned away a U.S. carrier.
The move came just two weeks after Defense Secretary Ashton Carter used a high-profile visit to the Stennis to criticize China’s territorial claims and island-building campaign in the South China Sea, a critical waterway that supports $5 trillion a year in international trade.
China has claimed sovereignty over virtually all of the South China Sea and has built a string of landfill islands with military-grade runways and port facilities to bolster its position.