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U.S. Warships Dock In Hong Kong

U.S. warships carrying thousands of sailors came to Hong Kong on Monday in the biggest port call since a spy plane crisis strained ties between Beijing and Washington.

Beijing barred U.S. port calls following NATO's bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999 and again after the U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet in April, killing the Chinese pilot and causing a major U.S.-Chinese standoff.

The arrival of the aircraft carrier USS Constellation was good news for merchants who depend on military visits for a substantial portion of their profits. Beijing's decision, however, came days after China barred another spy plane, the U.S. Navy's P-3C Orion patrol plane, from landing.

“Maybe we'll have a problem again,” said Roger Sabnani, who runs Sabs Far East Ltd. gift shop in the Fleet Arcade, a waterfront mall catering to foreign sailors.

Learn more about U.S.-China relations.

But permission for the Constellation to visit, following port calls by two small anti-mine ships in July, has been seen as another sign Beijing is moving past the spy plane crisis. The Constellation and six other warships, carrying about 6,500 sailors, are in Hong Kong on the port call that ends Saturday.

Hong Kong has long been a favored port of call for the U.S. military but Beijing's approval has been required since July 1, 1997, when Britain handed this former colony back to China.

Click here to look back on the spy plane incident.

One of the first servicemen who came ashore said he was ready to start shopping — but that he had no comment on the political controversies.

“I'm glad to be here,” said David Preswood, an aviation ordnance chief from Brenham, Texas. “Hong Kong is one of my favorite places.”

Fleet Arcade merchants said optimism over the warship visit outweighed any worries about the Navy plane that was kept out.

“Business will be much better,” said Lily Wong, a saleswoman at the Balco Diamond jewelry shop. “In the past several months, almost no ships came, so business has been dead.”

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