The hospital ship USNS Mercy left San Diego May 2, on the first leg of the Pacific Partnership 2010 mission. I sent in a request to embed with them under my War Is Boring credentials, but never heard a peep. Oh well. More than the embarkation missions on combat vessels or with combat units, I was interested in embedding with the Mercy because the soft-power mission fascinates me. I was also interested in spending a few days in Tokyo on the way back, but I digress.
Mercy is headed to the south and western Pacific in order to provide medical, dental, veterinary and engineering support to remote communities in the South Pacific, as well as Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Timor-Leste. According to Japan’s defense budget, Japan will be assisting PP 2010 sometime this year. What kind of assistance Japan will provide was not specified.
Here’s a question: why doesn’t Japan have it’s own version of the Pacific Partnership? Why doesn’t Japan have two former supertankers, converted to 1,000 bed hospital ships, and sail them from Africa to the South Pacific, delivering non-emergency humanitarian assistance? With its aversion to hard power and immense reservoirs of talent, technology, and cash, Japan should be the absolute king of soft power. Despite that, it displays an utter lack of imagination and a hesitation to copy even highly effective ideas. Yet again it prefers to just lend a hand to the Americans than do anything on its own.
As China rises, Japan increasingly needs cooperation from other Pacific Rim countries. Unfortunately, Japan often has a negative past with those countries that it has never really owned up to, and probably never will. Building out a pair of hospital ships and sailing them around the Pacific, dispensing free assistance, would go a long way towards burying the past and buying cooperation in the present.