Chinese navy hospital ship's 11-nation tour includes Vanuatu

BEIJING — A Chinese navy hospital ship will set sail Thursday to visit 11 countries including Vanuatu, where Australia has warned Beijing against building a military base.

The Defense Ministry said that during the tour, the People's Liberation Army Navy ship, Peace Ark, will provide humanitarian assistance and free medical aid and conduct exchanges, including opening the ship for visits.

The Peace Ark's humanitarian tours around the world have become a sign of China's outreach efforts and Beijing's ambitions of gradually expanding its military influence abroad.

In May, China and Vanuatu 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 said on Monday that Australia will negotiate a security treaty with Vanuatu, just weeks after he warned China against building a base there.

Last year, the Peace Ark stopped in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, where China has its first overseas military base and where rivals such as the U.S., 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 U.S. 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 countries and regions since it was commissioned in 2008, providing free medical assistance at its stops, according to state media.

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