China has finished work on a new navy hospital ship.
The 178-meter-long ship is designed to carry out rescue operations and provide humanitarian and medical aid, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
Workers first began production on the "Peace Ark” in 2008. Naval forces of China’s People’s Liberation Army will operate the ship.
Experts say the ship might be used to rescue boats that face problems in the disputed South China Sea. Those experts say China may use the ship to try to balance actions in the South China Sea seen as aggressive by other claimants.
China claims most of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea as its territory. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines also claim parts of the sea.
China has angered other claimants in recent years by creating small artificial islands in areas of the disputed sea and building military equipment on some of the land.
Trung Nguyen is with the international relations department of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities. He told VOA he thinks China believes the activities of the hospital ship can help improve the country’s image throughout the area.
“They want other countries to be reliant on them as the one who can take care of them to replace the U.S. in the region,” Nguyen said.
In the past, an American hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, has been sent to Asia to take part in disaster relief operations. China hopes its new ship will be seen as comparable to the USNS Mercy, says Carl Thayer. He is a professor of politics at The University of New South Wales in Australia.
The USNS Mercy is based in San Diego, California. It sometimes carries military members from other countries during some humanitarian operations, Thayer told VOA. The Peace Ark may be getting ready to do the same, he said.
“It can serve like the U.S. ship for being included in a task force or responding to a natural disaster,” Thayer said. “It doesn’t have to be China only. It could be a coalition of states, so China is now up in the big leagues.”
Oh Ei Sun is with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. He says China’s hospital ship will join other Chinese military equipment in the area to protect the “reach of sovereignty” over the South China Sea.
All claimants value the sea for its fisheries, energy resources and shipping activity. China and Vietnam have clashed in the waterway several times since the 1970s.
In more recent years, the Philippines has grown increasingly uneasy about Chinese activity in the Spratly island group. The Philippines also claims 10 small islands in the group.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations is now pushing for a set of rules to prevent clashes in the sea.
Oh Ei Sun says if China is using the Peace Ark to seek to improve its image with other claimants, this could be a way to start this. “They have to provide more public goods in the form of, for example, something just like this, medical ships,” he said.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
artificial – adj. something not natural but created by people
reliant – adj. to depend on someone or something
respond – v. say or do something in answer to something that has been said or done
in the big leagues – n. of or relating to the highest-ranking league in a professional sport
sovereignty– n. a country's independent power and the right to govern itself