CHINA is sending its state-of-the-art hospital ship to the Philippines following criticism that it was slow in its response to Typhoon Haiyan, which has killed at least 4,000 people.
Beijing’s foreign ministry confirmed the dispatch of the 14,000-tonne Peace Ark as state television reported the arrival of the first batch of Chinese relief supplies in the storm-stricken Philippines.
The Ark will set sail today, spokesman Hong Lei said.
“We hope this action can alleviate the current situation in the Philippines, which is lacking doctors and medicine, and reflect the Chinese people’s friendly feelings for the people of the Philippines,” Mr Hong said.
China’s emergency medical rescue team of 51 people left on Wednesday, Mr Hong said, adding that the Red Cross Society of China was sending two international rescue teams, with a first group of 16 having already left and a second group of 14 set to leave tomorrow.
“China has always been concerned about the Philippines typhoon disaster,” Mr Hong said.
Tension between China and the Philippines has risen in recent months over disputed claims in the South China Sea, with Manila taking Beijing to a United Nations court to challenge its claim to much of the strategic waterway.
China’s usually hawkish Global Times, a tabloid owned by the state mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, last week urged the deployment of the Ark amid criticism of Beijing’s response.
China, the world’s second-largest economy, initially announced it was giving $200,000 (£124,000) and then bumped that up by $1.6 million. On Sunday, it said it was ready to send rescue and medical teams.
The United States has sent 50 ships and aircraft, with helicopters delivering supplies from an aircraft carrier and announced $37m (£23m) in aid. Britain’s Disasters Emergency Committee has £50 million ($80m) in aid to distribute, including £44m given by the public, £5m by the UK coalition and £600,000 from the Scottish Government.
Armed forces and aid agencies are struggling to get help to devastated areas in the Philippines, where the typhoon – the worst recorded, with winds of up to 186mph – has left more than four million homeless. A storm surge caused devastation in coastal areas.
The Ark will join an international flotilla of naval ships now delivering food, water and medicine to victims of Typhoon Haiyan, which tore across the central Philippine on 8 November.
The ship, outfitted with 300 hospital beds, eight operating theatres and a medical staff of 100, recently returned to Shanghai after a four-month tour of Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, where thousands of patients were treated at several goodwill stops. A Chinese cargo plane carrying tents and blankets landed in the Philippine city of Cebu on Tuesday with aid meant for the city of Tacloban.