ZHOUSHAN, China (AP) — Military flags fluttered in the wind aboard China's navy hospital ship Peace Ark as it began a goodwill mission to the Philippines on Thursday, nearly two weeks after the Southeast Asian country was struck by a devastating typhoon that killed more than 4,000 people.
The mission was announced earlier this week following days of critical media reports that compared the international outpouring of aid with tepid early offers of assistance from Beijing, which is embroiled in a conflict with Manila over maritime territory.
Adm. Shen Hao said China feels kinship with the Philippines following the disaster, in brief comments aboard the large white ship, emblazoned with red crosses.
"We will try our best to contribute new friendship between China and the Philippines," said Shen, who is deputy chief of staff for the Chinese navy's East China Sea Fleet.
The ship will take 300 hospital beds and more than 100 doctors and nurses to the Philippines, where medics plan to provide on-board care as well as venturing into the disaster zone with field tents.
Beijing initially pledged $100,000 in emergency aid, which it later upgraded to nearly $2 million in cash, tents, blankets and other materials, in a limited response attributed to its feud with Manila over South China Sea islands. In contrast, the United States says it has provided more than $37 million in humanitarian assistance. Even major corporations such as Ikea and Coca-Cola outdid the original Chinese pledges in value.
The Peace Ark has 20 intensive care units and eight operating theaters, making it smaller but similar in design to the U.S. Navy's 1,000-bed USNS Mercy, now preparing for deployment to the Philippines at its home base in San Diego.