China sending elite military medical team to Liberia


By The Wall Street Journal

BEIJING–China said it would send an elite military medical team to Liberia to run a treatment center for Ebola victims, as it stepped up its involvement in helping the strategically important region grapple with the deadly disease.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday said it would send 480 medical staffers from the People’s Liberation Army to manage and operate the center. Once completed, the number of experts and medical staffers it has sent to Africa to fight Ebola would rise past 700.

“Currently, the epidemic in West Africa is far from under control and poses a real threat to the people of the epidemic-stricken countries and the whole world,” said Lin Songtian, director of the ministry’s African affairs department, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

The plan comes as the U.S. and other countries call for a stepped-up response to the disease. More than 1,100 U.S. military personnel are working in Liberia or Senegal, and the Pentagon is looking at sending nearly 3,000 more to West Africa if needed.

The deployment marks a further step by China to deploy military personnel to Africa. In March 2013, China sent about 300 peacekeepers to Mali to protect Chinese engineers building a U.N. camp. In September, a spokesman for the president of Uganda said China has begun deploying 700 soldiers under U.N. command to protect Chinese workers and oil installations in South Sudan.

At sea, it has run antipiracy operations of the eastern African coast and in 2011 deployed ships to rescue Chinese workers in Libya.

China has sought to cast itself as a responsible global actor in the fight against Ebola, although its cash and other humanitarian contributions have lagged behind the U.S.

In Sierra Leone, Chinese medical staff have already been helping treat patients near the capital, and some state-owned enterprises have been enlisted to provide logistics and other assistance.

China has sought to play an active role in the region, which is considers important due to its rich natural resources. On Friday, Xinhua said Beijing’s aid to West Africa now totals $122 million. At the same time, a number of Chinese operations have scaled back amid fears of the spread of Ebola.

Xinhua said the 100-bed medical center would be put in use within 30 days, and that it would send its staff in three groups of 160 people. It also said it would provide equipment ranging from ambulances to beds to protective gear.

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