BEIJING, July 16 (Reuters) – A Chinese military-run hospital ship has arrived in Kiribati for the first time, as China vies with the United States for influence in the Pacific region.
The arrival of the 14,300 metric ton “Peace Ark” – the first time a Chinese navy vessel has visited Kiribati – marks a step up in Chinese soft power in the Pacific Island state that switched its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China in 2019.
The ship docked at Kiribati on Saturday to start a seven-day visit that includes humanitarian medical assistance, the Chinese defense ministry said on its official WeChat account on Sunday.
While medical crew from the ship will see patients at the local hospital and other places, the Chinese commanding officer will meet with Kiribati leaders including the president, health minister, transport minister and police chief.
The ship is also due to visit Tonga, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and East Timor.
China has been building ties in the Pacific in recent years to the consternation of the United States and allies Australia and New Zealand, who have long seen the region as their sphere of influence.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.
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