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A bid for better military relations with China

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But the elephant in the room may be a series of incidents last fall after the PLA refused to allow the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and its accompanying ships into the Hong Kong port for a planned Thanksgiving visit. The PLA said it was a "misunderstanding," and a day later agreed to allow the ships in. But the Kitty Hawk had already departed, US officials say, disappointing more than 300 family members of American sailors who had flown there to celebrate the holiday with their loved ones.

Earlier that week, China refused safe harbor during a storm to two American minesweepers, the USS Patriot and the USS Guardian – in violation of international maritime agreements.

The moves may have been a way for China to show its displeasure after President Bush awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet whom China sees as a separatist, some analysts say. If so, they say, it's one more sign of China's willingness to use the military relationship with the US for political purposes.

It's not clear American officials will ever get to the bottom of Chinese motivations. When Admiral Keating and Mr. Shinn meet with Chinese military officials, Keating will try to get past it, but the incident is likely to come up.

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