A Chinese navy hospital ship was to set sail on Thursday to visit 11 nations, including Vanuatu, where Australia has warned Beijing against building a military base.
During the tour, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy ship Peace Ark is to provide humanitarian assistance and free medical aid and conduct exchanges, including opening the ship for visits, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense said.
The Peace Ark’s humanitarian tours have become a sign of China’s outreach efforts and Beijing’s ambitions of gradually expanding its military influence abroad.
China and Vanuatu last month denied media reports that Beijing had approached the South Pacific nation, which has a population of 280,000, about building a permanent military presence there.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at the time that Australia “would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific island countries and neighbors of ours.”
Turnbull on Monday said that Australia would negotiate a security treaty with Vanuatu, just weeks after he warned China against building a base there.
The Peace Ark last year stopped in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, where China has its first overseas military base and where rivals such as the US, Japan and several European nations also have a permanent presence.
In 2015, the ship docked at a port outside Peru’s capital of Lima, its first-ever call at a South American port.
Such goodwill visits have been the mainstay of US diplomacy in Latin America for decades.
The ship, which has 300 beds, eight operation rooms and a medical helicopter, has carried out such missions to 35 nations and regions since it was commissioned in 2008, providing free medical assistance at its stops, according to state media.
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