The hospital ship reportedly docked at the Venezuelan port of La Guaira, near Caracas, on its latest destination as part of a 11-nation “Mission Harmony” tour. President Nicolas Maduro announced that the ship will remain in the country for about a week. Reports indicate that the commander of the vessel will meet with military and political officials and tour medical facilities in the country. Since its commission in 2008, the hospital ship has been conducting humanitarian tours around the world. Noteworthy, in August the U.S. announced the deployment of its own hospital ship USNS Comfort to Colombia, mainly to provide free medical treatment for Venezuelan migrants fleeing their home country.
The arrival of “The Peace Ark” follows President Maduro’s visit to China on September 13-16, where he sought to obtain financial support for Venezuela’s troubled economy. Seen in this light, the arrival of the vessel is to be interpreted as a token of goodwill or soft diplomacy on the part of China, especially after the American decision to deploy the USNS Comfort. Considering that Venezuelan officials accuse the U.S. of planning a military intervention on humanitarian grounds, President Maduro will likely publicize the arrival of “The Peace Ark” as Chinese backing vis-a-vis the U.S. In any event, while the docking of a Chinese hospital ship in Venezuela marks Beijing’s growing influence in the country, it does not jeopardize American interests in the region.