Home » China Rising » Chinese Hospital Ship “Peace Ark” Sets Sail For Africa

Chinese Hospital Ship “Peace Ark” Sets Sail For Africa

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

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Jared August 31, 2010 at 4:54 pm

It'd be 'unfortunate' if that thing runs into an iceberg or a stray North Korean torpedo… just saying.


Jeff September 3, 2010 at 10:57 pm

It'd be unfortunate for you to be nominated for the 2010 Darwin Award. I'm just sayin', since who dumb people tend to meet their end in very interesting ways.


Riceball August 31, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Interesting ship design, it looks like they took an older model cruise ship and converted it a hospital ship.


Howe August 31, 2010 at 6:19 pm

nope. its actually a new ship, build from the ground up to be a hospital ship.

As an American I view China as a future enemy (one that we are helping become the worlds biggest super power), but I have no problem with them building hospital ships…


Nick August 31, 2010 at 5:25 pm

It's not like we don't get something for helping Hati. The last thing the US wants is another Hatian exodus to the US that the US taxpayer has to pick up the bill for, so anything that keeps them out of rafts is good for us (And Florida! Oh the virtues of being a swing state! People pay attention to you!). We aren't paragons of virtue and they aren't evil monsters.

Maybe the US would make more of an effort for soft power if a defense contractor could figure out how to make a few hundred billion off of selling the US a simple cruise ship hull filled with standard hospital gear.


ASSASSYN August 31, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Africa… the most raped continent on earth.


Maxtrue August 31, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Why not convert a carrier bound for the junkyard into a hospital ship with helicopter transport? In major conflict it can serve.

Gates and Clinton should team up with the DOD.

I once suggested that Israel do such soft power work for good relations. Even Iran is planning a hospital ship show. Unfortunately I think its bound for a Gaza encounter with the IDF.


ohwilleke September 2, 2010 at 7:30 pm

We have two hospital ships in the fleet and have done, conceptually, just that each time.


Nadnerbus August 31, 2010 at 7:26 pm

China might be a future strategic rival, but deploying medical help to people that are suffering is a good thing, no matter who's doing it.

I'd actually like to see some collaboration between theirs and our medical ships. It would be a good, non military way to share cultures, and hopefully lower the mutual suspicion. And even if those benefits don't come from it, there really isn't any downside either.


blight August 31, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Be intriguing to see if they were open to doctors exchanges on hospital ships. See how their medical practices differ from ours. They would probably learn a great deal about how we run our operating rooms, especially after learning the lessons of timely medical care in Iraq/Afghanistan. We'd gain insight into how another nation does medical care, probably on fractional budgets compared to ours.

Hopefully they're embarking a robust defense against Somali pirates. A ship full of medical supplies and doctors is probably worth a lot of money…


Locarno September 1, 2010 at 8:05 am

Much like the deployment of PLAN patrols to the gulf of Aden, I can imagine that no-one in the region would shed that many tears if the pirates were to encounter someone whose ROE were a little…less strenuous?


PTS September 1, 2010 at 2:41 pm

I was the Air Officer on Comfort for CP09. We had a visit from several Chinese medical staff (doctors, med admin, senior enlisted) and they spent several days watching our operations, scrubbing in, watching patient transfer ect. They were taking notes. They made some of the same mistakes on their boat that we made on ours. Look closely, there is a difference between a trauma hospital (Comfort/Mercy) and a humanitarian med boat.


Nadnerbus September 2, 2010 at 4:21 am

So it seems they may have used their visit to gain insight on how to configure and run their own ship. Interesting.


chaos0xomega August 31, 2010 at 7:57 pm

I think the defense is covered by the part where it says there are soldiers aboard.

This I see no problem with, if anyone does their crazy, although I wouldn't blame some people if they refused medical treatment aboard a Chinese Hospital ship. I have heard that Chinese medicine has a high(ish?) post-surgical infection rate.


blight August 31, 2010 at 9:19 pm

They just need to pair with a freighter carrying food…


Icysquirrel August 31, 2010 at 9:57 pm

I'm willing to bet China has the same disparity with its medical facilities that Russia has/had: Major urban centres are on par with the world's best clinics, while rural areas are horribly undersupplied, understaffed, and neglected in general. I'm also betting that being a show of international goodwill, the ship will be much closer to the former than the latter case.


Chimp September 1, 2010 at 9:49 am

Your description of medical facilities in China is pretty accurate. Not sure I would go with "on a par with the world's best" except in a few instances. Most cities have a metropolitan hospital that's of a reasonable standard. A bit… unusual… compared to the rigour of a hospital in a developed country, but effective enough. In smaller towns, it gets very basic.

@chaos0xomega, well, for urgent treatment, I think that you'd probably take what they can offer. I'd definitely recommend getting to a first world hospital for a checkup ASAP.

As another poster said, no matter how obviously this is a "good will ambassador" / "evil propagandist", it's hard to completely reject a hospital ship.


tatish August 31, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Seriously, when will Americans stop being soo naive. It's been a common patter in the World's history since the beginning that major government actions where always performed seeking some sort of gain. How they are broadcasted to the people is a different thing called propaganda (and no, it's not a communist term, democracies perfected it a lot more than the reds…)


Thomas L. Nielsen September 1, 2010 at 1:46 am

The difference between PR and propaganda:

If we're doing it, it's PR.

If the enemy's doing it, it's propaganda.

Kind of like the difference between "ambush" and "prepared assault by fire".

Regards & all.

Thomas L. Nielsen


STemplar September 1, 2010 at 4:18 am

Good PR move, even if they do get in the way of trying to reform some of the crummy governments that keep the health situation in Africa God awful.


Oblat September 1, 2010 at 8:35 am

How clueless, Haiti is a US client state.


AyeGuy September 1, 2010 at 10:16 am

I really like the Cross painted on the side.

Fun Fact -> China is fast becoming a Christian nation.

This is GOOS NEWS.


blight September 1, 2010 at 11:12 am

The cross is the internationally recognized symbol used to designate medical personnel. Granted the NVA/VC shot at them during Vietnam, and the communists didn't respect it either in Korea…


Jeff September 3, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Sorry mate, there aint enough suckers in China to fall for Christianity. Funny all the figures on the Chinese Christian population all came from evangelical groups, really reliable sources for sure.


maotai September 1, 2010 at 11:28 pm

http://www.nowpublic.com/world/china-first-haiti-... http://english.cri.cn/6909/2010/01/15/45s542729.h... http://www.voanews.com/english/news/americas/Chin... http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2010/01/19/chi...

I think for China, a country located half way round the world and with no diplomatic ties with Haiti they did pretty well.

As for the Indonesian Tsunami; the Chinese were slow in responding which they learnt a lesson and hence their response to Haiti. But they are making up in Indonesia with post disaster efforts which are very much in need as well. http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2010/06/26/how-to-pl...

Broaden your horizon and stop just watching Fox.


Blah September 3, 2010 at 12:26 am

Perhaps it's you who shouldn't be reading leftist websites that published slanted view pretended to be mainstream. Check out how much the US helped in Haiti and compare that to China: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/jan/....

US: $467 million
China: $10.8 million, which was even less than… Denmark, a tiny country with not very big economy…

Considering the article you showed, it appeared China only concerned with the publicity gained by trying to be the first, but then quietly trickle its aid down to pathetic level.


Jeff September 3, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Oh please, whatever money we spend on humanitarian missions probably came from China. So in effect, China has outsourced aid missions to the US.


Byron Skinner September 2, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Good Morning Folks,

The effective use of soft power projection is the area that future militaries are perhaps the most concerned about. The concern of China as a future enemy with in this century is now mostly confined to those in the military who have a personal interest in promoting this line of lobbying and propaganda (re: economic or political) and the rather large but still a minority group that has an active imaginations and see bad guys everywhere. The vast majority have never served a day in the military but feel themselves experts none the less.

Concerns like providing health care to underdeveloped countries such as the PRC is doing here, developing higher concentrated liquid fertilizers that are also environmentally friendly and are harder to weaponize, cereal seeds that mature into crops faster, thus providing more then a single crop a year in higher latitudes, inexpensive mechanized farm equipment that can be maintained but local mechanics etc. These are the issue that are being kicked around by the men/women who have done rotations into the war zone and are expecting to go back.

I would think that the guiding principle here is that hungry people are more willing to listen to the terrorists message then those that have enough to eat and perhaps some surplus to feed their neighbors also. The PRC has seen that people who enjoy good health, are also productive people who can earn an income so they can buy Chinese consumer goods. That’s soft-power for profit.

We are at war and that should be the priority of military though at the moment, not promoting big ticket generational defense contracts for platforms and systems that will never be used as intended.

Byron Skinner


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