Last week, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) deployed its first purpose-built hospital ship on an 87 day medical diplomacy mission. The 10,000 ton vessel, called Peace Ark, will “provide medical treatment to soldiers and officers serving in the Gulf of Aden”, “provide medical treatment to people in five African and Asian countries – Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, the Seychelles and Bangladesh”, and “conduct various exchange programs with medical workers in the countries the ship calls at”.
This launch marks a major soft power first for Beijing. The cruise is almost certainly inspired by the successes of similar US medical stability operations conducted by USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy. However, it is important to note that, like US hospital ships, Peace Ark is a dual-use vessel. America’s hospital ships were originally designed and built to provide medical care during large scale military operations. Likewise, Peace Ark is exactly the type of ship needed during a major amphibious action against Taiwan.
Check out Raymond at Information Dissemination for some good commentary.