We’ve closely followed the progress of China’s muscle flexing in the Pacific, here at The Australian Tribune. From ‘hard’ moves, like China claiming international waters by building artificial islands, to ‘soft’ moves like buying influence in Pacific Island nations with infrastructure projects and loans. China has even been accused of clandestinely interfering in elections in Australia and our Pacific neighbours.
But the latest development has a bit more of a warm and fuzzy feel to it.
China’s Peace Ark has recently set sail…
It’s a state of the art military hospital ship (like the kind you would use to support an invasion force, but never mind that) and China are using it to make a positive impact.
Staffed with over 100 medical personnel, equipped with 300 beds and eight operating rooms, and even offering a range of traditional Chinese medicine treatments, the ship is completing a circuit around the Pacific offering hospital services to people in need.
In just one week, the People’s Liberation Navy aboard the Peace Ark treated over 4,000 whilst docking in the capital of Papua New Guinea.
After its Pacific tour, with Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga as their next ports, the Peace Ark will set sail for the Dominican Republic.
It’s a really kind humanitarian gesture.
However, there’s a sting in the tail of this mission…
Despite it’s good intentions, the hospital ship will not be dropping anchor in any nations that diplomatically acknowledge Taiwan. That includes Tuvalu, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Nauru and Kiribati. Many of them places where a state of the art hospital ship could make a real difference in people’s lives.
On the one hand, it’s nice to see one side in the escalating Pacific tensions spending money on something that helps people, rather than on weapons for threatening their neighbours.
But on the other hand, snubbing needy nations simply for acknowledging Taiwan makes it crystal clear that China’s government isn’t doing this out of the kindness of their hearts. Instead, they’re using their humanitarian efforts to try to push Pacific governments into doing and saying what China wants.
Is this really just a good deed?
Independent Security analyst Alejandro Sanchez told the ABC that the Chinese Government is seeking to portray itself as a friendly global power through the use of the Peace Ark.
And he believes that the mission is working — it’s strengthening the relations between China and its neighbours around the world, as well as benefiting people that are in need.
But Mr Sanchez believes there’s a lot more work to be done.
‘Certainly initiatives like the Peace Ark are important initiatives, but there’s still too much for China to do in order to catch up.’
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Alice de Bruin