China Tries U.S. “Soft Power” With Hospital Ship

China’s military has a new weapon in the country’s soft-power arsenal that copies a technique long used by the United States – a 10,000-ton hospital ship to be deployed for humanitarian purposes in Asia and beyond.

The vessel, dubbed Ship 866, is meant to soften China’s image overseas and allay concerns among its neighbors over its navy´s growing strength, while at the same time adding to its military capabilities, analysts say.

By Chris O’Brien
The Washington Times

The ship’s arrival coincides with clear signs that the Chinese military is tentatively moving away from its policy of maintaining a low international profile to avoid provoking those who doubt its commitment to a “peaceful rise” doctrine.

Chinese warships last month began patrolling the pirate-plagued waters in the Gulf of Aden – the first time they have ventured out of the Pacific on a combat mission since the 15th century. A top Chinese defense military official said recently that China is seriously considering adding its first aircraft carrier to its naval fleet.

Ship 866 makes “the country one of the few in the world that has medical care and emergency rescue capabilities on the high seas while also raising the capability of the Chinese navy to accomplish diversified military missions,” the Communist Party newspaper People´s Daily said recently.

Specialized hospital ships have military purposes – to treat battlefield casualties and provide support to amphibious assault ships – but are used most often for humanitarian and disaster relief missions, said Robert Work, a naval analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.

“A hospital ship becomes an extremely important symbol of a country´s soft power,” he said. “Even if it does have a military mission, 99 percent of its service life is probably going to be spent on soft-power missions.”

The United States has two dedicated hospital ships, each equipped with 1,000 hospital beds: the USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy.

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