China’s ‘Peace Ark’ sails to the Pacific: A humanitarian mission or a strategic move?
China is sending its military-run hospital ship, the Peace Ark, to the Pacific for a nine-month humanitarian mission. The ship will visit five countries in the region: Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and East Timor. The mission, dubbed “Harmony Mission 2023”, aims to provide medical aid to Chinese citizens and local residents, as well as to showcase China’s image as a “responsible big country”, according to the defence ministry.
But the Peace Ark’s voyage is not just about altruism. It is also part of China’s broader strategy to expand its influence and counter the United States and its allies in the Pacific, a region that has long been seen as their sphere of influence.
The Peace Ark: A symbol of China’s soft power
The Peace Ark is a 14,300 metric ton ship that is bigger than a typical Chinese destroyer. It was commissioned in 2008 and has sailed to more than 40 countries, offering free medical services and humanitarian assistance. The ship is painted white with red crosses on its sides, and has a crew of about 400, including doctors, nurses, technicians and military personnel.
The Peace Ark is a symbol of China’s soft power, or its ability to persuade and attract others through culture, values and diplomacy. By sending the ship to the Pacific, China hopes to win the hearts and minds of the people in the region, as well as to enhance its reputation and image in the international community.
The Peace Ark’s mission is also a response to the criticism that China’s involvement in the Pacific is driven by self-interest and debt-trap diplomacy. China has been accused of luring Pacific countries into unsustainable loans for infrastructure projects, such as ports, roads and bridges, that could give Beijing strategic leverage over them. By offering humanitarian aid and medical services, China wants to show that it is a benevolent partner that cares about the well-being of its Pacific neighbours.
The Pacific: A battleground for influence
The Pacific is a region of strategic importance for both China and the United States. It covers about one-third of the Earth’s surface and contains vast natural resources, such as fisheries, minerals and oil. It is also home to more than a dozen small island nations that have diplomatic ties with either China or Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own.
China has been increasing its presence and influence in the Pacific in recent years, through trade, investment, aid and diplomacy. It has also signed security pacts with some Pacific countries, such as the Solomon Islands, which switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 2019. China’s foreign minister has said that relations with the Solomon Islands can serve as a model for other Pacific countries.
The United States and its allies, such as Australia and New Zealand, have been alarmed by China’s growing clout in the region. They have been stepping up their engagement and support for the Pacific countries, through funding, development assistance, security cooperation and diplomatic outreach. The United States has pledged to triple its funding for the region and has opened or planned new embassies in several Pacific countries. It has also signed defence pacts with Papua New Guinea and Palau.
The Peace Ark’s visit to the Pacific comes at a time of heightened competition and tension between China and the United States over various issues, such as trade, human rights, technology and Taiwan. The two powers are vying for influence and allies in the region, which could have implications for regional stability and security.
The Peace Ark: A humanitarian mission or a strategic move?
The Peace Ark’s mission to the Pacific is both a humanitarian gesture and a strategic move by China. It is part of China’s efforts to project its soft power and improve its image in the region, as well as to counter the United States and its allies’ influence and presence. The mission could also help China gain access and goodwill from some Pacific countries that are strategically located or have valuable resources.
However, the Peace Ark’s mission could also face challenges and limitations. Some Pacific countries may be wary of China’s intentions and motives behind its humanitarian aid. Some may also prefer to maintain a balance between China and the United States, rather than aligning with one side over the other. Moreover, the Peace Ark’s mission may not be enough to address some of the pressing issues that affect the Pacific countries, such as climate change, poverty, health care and governance.
The Peace Ark’s mission to the Pacific is an example of how China is using its hospital ship as a tool of diplomacy and influence in the region. It is also an indication of how the Pacific is becoming a battleground for influence between China and the United States. The future of the region will depend on how the Pacific countries navigate the complex and dynamic relations between the two powers, as well as on how the two powers manage their competition and cooperation in the region.
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