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May 6, 6:21 AM EDT

US Navy commander says canceled HK visit a minor hurdle

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SHANGHAI (AP) -- The commander of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet on Friday dismissed the cancellation of a planned port visit to Hong Kong by an American aircraft carrier as a "minor hurdle" in relations between the two militaries.

Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin spoke in China's financial hub of Shanghai after the docking of the USS Blue Ridge, the fleet's command ship, whose visit he said indicated the durability of the China-U.S. military-to-military relationship.

The U.S. State Department said last week that China recently denied a request for the USS John C. Stennis to visit Hong Kong, in an apparent sign of mounting tension in the disputed South China Sea.

Aucoin said he didn't know why the visit was canceled, although Defense Secretary Ash Carter and his Philippine counterpart had visited the carrier in the South China Sea two weeks earlier, irking Beijing. The reason "would probably be a good question for the government of China," he said.

"But the very fact that we're on this pier, that our two navies, our two countries, don't let that minor hurdle get in the way of our relationships. Our, the relationship between our two countries is much too important for a port visit to get in the way of that," Aucoin told reporters.

China hasn't explained the reason for the cancellation, but previous cancellations have been linked to tensions over Taiwan or other political and military disputes.

Despite lingering suspicions, the two navies have been gradually expanding contacts and have agreed to protocols to avoid unintended incidents at sea.

The two navies this month are cooperating in a training exercise with 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. China also plans to again take part in this June's Rim of the Pacific international naval drills that the U.S. Pacific Fleet hosts every two years off Hawaii.

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