China's Military Deploying Relief Ship to Philippines to Aid in Typhoon Haiyan Aftermath - China Real Time Report - WSJ

China’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the Chinese military will deploy a medical-relief ship to aid in humanitarian efforts in the Philippines, and that it will soon deploy an initial batch of relief workers to the country following a green light from Manila.

A statement posted to the Foreign Ministry website gave no specifics on what the military ship, known as the “peace ark,” would be doing in the Philippines, or on where it would anchor once it arrived. China’s Defense Ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning.

The announcement by China follows earlier commitments by both Japan and the U.S. to deploy military ships to aid relief in the Philippines, where the death toll from Typhoon Haiyan is at nearly 4,000.

Beijing took criticism early on for what many viewed as a meager commitment of aid, at first announcing only $100,000 in relief through the Red Cross Society of China. The U.S., meanwhile, was gearing up an aircraft carrier to help. Some experts said Beijing had stumbled on the public relations front, as its heated territorial dispute with Manila in the South China Sea made it reluctant to do more.

China later upped its aid to the Philippines, and in recent days has said it was willing to send relief personnel to disaster-stricken areas, but indicated that it hadn’t yet received permission to take part from the Philippine government.

The Foreign Ministry defended China’s response to the typhoon in its statement on Wednesday.

“The Chinese side has always been highly concerned about the typhoon disaster in the Philippines,” the statement read.

Strategic analysts describe the Chinese navy’s medical-relief ship as a way for China to exude soft power through its growing hard-power military assets, and has previously made ports of call in India, Myanmar and elsewhere.

U.S. officials have repeatedly said they want to build trust with the Chinese military and see greater cooperation on humanitarian issues as one area to achieve it.

–Brian Spegele. Follow him on Twitter @bspegele.

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