China’s 10,000 ton hospital ship “Peace Ark” left Zhoushan Port today en route to the Gulf of Aden on its first overseas medical mission, according to a Chinese government announcement. It says the ship carries 428 “soldiers, officers and medical workers.” During its 87-day mission the ship’s medical staff will provide treatment to people in Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, the Seychelles and Bangladesh.
The Chinese are adept (and becoming more so) at the use of soft power in all its forms, not just economic, as this deployment makes clear. Taking a page from the U.S. Navy playbook, the hospital ship will become a major tool in China’s soft power exploits.
The Peace Ark’s deployment should be seen in the same light as China’s PLA Navy participating in anti-piracy patrols: maximizing the strategic and messaging value of the limited number of ships it’s able to maintain on long patrols. Undoubtedly, a major public relations campaign will follow the hospital ship’s various port calls.
Very few world navies have purpose built hospital ships and it’s rather significant that the Chinese built such a large one. That they did goes to the drivers behind China’s naval expansion. The Peace Ark is another signal that the PLA Navy is moving beyond the defending territorial claims imperative into more far ranging economic interests.
China must secure raw materials to supply its voracious economic growth, Africa is a source of many of those resources, hence the peace Ark goes to Africa. China must also worry about the safety and health of its overseas workers, thousands of which are working across the African continent.
-- Greg Grant