Chinese Navy hospital ship
© Manaure Quintero / Reuters
Chinese Navy hospital ship Peace Ark prepares to dock at the port in La Guaira, Venezuela, September 22, 2018
A Chinese hospital vessel has moored at a port near Caracas, where its staff will be providing free medical care to Venezuelans. Recently, a similar-class ship was sent by the US to Colombia to treat refugees fleeing Venezuela.

The 'Peace Ark,' a 300-bed Chinese Navy hospital ship, has moored on Saturday at the port of La Guaira lying close to Venezuelan capital. The vessel, which was commissioned back in 2008, is said to have eight surgery rooms and a medevac helicopter.

According to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the 'Peace Ark' will stay in Venezuela for about a week. During the stay, the Chinese commander of the ship will meet with military and political officials and inspect Venezuelan and medical facilities.

China is one of Venezuela's key allies, and the vessel's visit was seen there as a sign of Beijing's support for the crisis-hit country. Maduro himself only recently came back from a trip to China, where he sought to attract investment and new loans. Though Beijing leaders pledged to help Caracas, it made no reference to pumping more money in Venezuela's economy.

Nevertheless, the 'Peace Ark' had received warm greetings from Venezuela's military top brass. Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez, who was on hand to greet the Chinese ship, told the crew: "This is how you undertake diplomacy in the world... with concrete actions of cooperation and not stoking the false voices of those who beat the drum of war."
venezuela china hospital
© Manaure Quintero / Reuters
He later wrote on Twitter the visit was a manifestation of "a true diplomacy of peace" and maintained Venezuela and China "share a common destiny."

President Maduro declared that the Chinese ship's visit spelled the start of "a combined integrated strategic operation between the two countries." He refrained from further elaboration.

Interestingly, the Chinese goodwill mission overlapped with a similar one launched by the US. The Pentagon announced in August that it will send its own 250-bed hospital ship, the USNS 'Comfort,' to neighboring Colombia. While the US military maintained the Comfort's mission has nothing to do with politics, it casually slammed Maduro and his policy.

"We're not sending soldiers; we're sending doctors. And it's an effort to deal with the human cost of Maduro, and his increasingly isolated regime," Defense Secretary James Mattis said.

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Nevertheless, Venezuela's socialist government envisioned the deployment of the 'Comfort' as part of an attempt by the US to pave the way for a military action against the country. It is unclear if this suspicion has grounds in reality, but Washington has indeed vowed to increase pressure on Venezuela and undertake "a series of actions" in the coming days.

Venezuela has recently seen a wave of anti-government protests demonstrations hyperinflation in the country and the drop in global oil prices, the main export for the Latin American state. On the back of snowballing troubles in the economy, Venezuelans have protested against shortages of food and water, as well as soaring unemployment.