Recent recalls of toys made in China and lingering concerns of U.S. consumers that lead-painted children’s products may still be on the shelves threatens to diminish the excitement many families have about buying Christmas presents for their little ones. Now, the Chinese have spoiled Thanksgiving for hundreds of American military personnel and their families.
China unexpectedly decided last week to block the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk from a long-planned — and almost traditional — Thanksgiving visit to Hong Kong. Relatives of the 8,000 sailors on the Kitty Hawk had traveled, in some cases, halfway around the world to spend Thanksgiving with their loved ones. The owner of the restaurant who had the contract to feed the holiday meal was stuck with half a ton of turkey, even more coleslaw, 100,000 hamburger buns and 3,000 pizzas, according to reports from The Associated Press and other news outlets.
Chinese officials, perhaps recognizing the makings of a public relations disaster, reserved the decision 24 hours later, citing “humanitarian considerations,” but the change in heart came too late for the Kitty Hawk. The carrier waited as long as it could, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Hawaii, but logistics and bad weather had forced the ship to head to its base in Japan. That should not be construed as an American counter-snub, Naval officials said. It was just too late to turn back. So, those on board observed Thanksgiving as another work day, and family members went back home disappointed.
Analysts said the Chinese decision has all the markings of a diplomatic slap in the face, but whatever message someone in its government was trying to send is unclear. China’s Defense Ministry offered no public comment, but it seems certain that America has done something to upset someone in authority.
The situation was not lost on the international press, which has advanced several theories concerning what might be behind the snub. Theories range from anger over President Bush’s recent meeting with the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Chinese-held Tibet, to displeasure over a U.S. upgrade to Taiwan’s Patriot II antimissile shield; to irritation over a U.S. report critical of Chinese espionage activities.
Then there’s the ongoing controversy over the safety of toys imported from China, even though an optimistic news release Tuesday from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission could be interpreted to suggest that with new agreements signed by China, everything is under control in toy land.
Obviously, it’s not — with neither children’s playthings nor military relations.