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Chinese navy ship touring Caribbean

The Americas Post - Free Chinese delivery now includes medical aid. Photo Credit: Xinhua News

Doctors and nurses deployed by the dozen from a Chinese navy hospital ship in Jamaica Tuesday, as part of a humanitarian mission to portray China’s growing military as a responsible global power.

China’s 584 foot Peace Ark carries over 100 medical volunteers offering free surgery, CAT scans, eye care and other procedures.

Launched three years ago, the floating hospital is making its second foreign trip, according to the Chinese Embassy.  This voyage is around the Caribbean, where the United States has historically been the largest investment source and military partner.

Dubbed “Harmonious Mission,” the operation aims to soften the image of China’s 2.3 million-member military and improve ties with other nations’ armed forces.

“It’s trying to use military powers in ways that are reassuring and not threatening,” said David M. Lampton, who directs the China studies program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “The Chinese have a strategy of simultaneously growing their hard power but using it in a soft way that’s reassuring and therefore doesn’t build a coalition of enemies against it.”

The Peace Ark already made a stop in Cuba and after Jamaica will proceed to Trinidad and Tobago.

Chinese navy Lt. Cmdr. Chen Yong Peng, whose team is working at a clinic in the Jamaican capital of Kingston, explained that this mission allows military personnel to build relationships with regional authorities and has nothing to do with countering U.S. influence.

“Our team of medical staff is doing all kinds of surgeries and operations, nearly everything except organ transplants,” he said through a translator. “China has had a long history of relations with Jamaica and other places in the Caribbean.”

Hundreds of Jamaicans lined up for hours beneath a blazing sun outside the clinic in Kingston’s gritty Olympic Gardens area.

Medical diplomacy is a time-honored practice in Latin America, especially by Cuba’s communist government, which sends thousands of doctors to provide free care in poor neighboring countries each year.  Venezuela is also financing many of these missions.

Earlier this year, an 894-foot U.S. Navy hospital ship made a similar visit to Jamaica as part of a five-month goodwill mission to nine countries in the Caribbean and Latin America.