The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched Asia’s largest, most advanced and most luxurious ‘amphibious augmentation platform’ last month at Yantai Port in Shandong Province. From Wired:

The media freaked out about China’s crappy aircraft carrier and hyperventilated over the J-20 stealth fighter (bonus link here). But China’s newest addition to its military is more subtle, and stylish. It’s a 36,000-ton pleasure boat capable of disgorging thousands of troops and hundreds of vehicles held inside its belly.

At heart a vessel for pleasure and civilian transport, the Bohai Sea Green Pearl is intended to normally ferry cars and passengers across the Yellow Sea. But when needed by the PLA, the Green Pearl can double as a troop carrier. During its launching ceremony and demonstration on Aug. 8, PLA troops could be seen loading dozens of tanks, artillery pieces and armored vehicles on board.

China also has three more of the vessels under construction, which Zhang Wei, chief of the PLA’s Military Transportation Department under the PLA General Logistics Department, said is a “new leap in our military use of civilian vessels to improve the strategic projection.” The Green Pearl reportedly has room for more than 2,000 people and 300 cars. It’s even got a helicopter pad.

Whether hauling around civilians or troops, the ship reportedly features passenger amenities like tall windows for observing “the beautiful scenery of the sea;” cabins equipped with televisions, cellphone signal amplifiers and wireless internet access; and a multi-purpose auditorium.

Despite the new launch, the Green Pearl will not likely see much action in the South China Sea, where its soft-power-Love-Boat look and feel won’t do much to avert conflict.

Wired notes that the concept of using civilian ships for double duty is not a new concept for the Chinese, nor for Western navies including that of the U.S.

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Ray Kwong is senior advisor to the USC US-China Institute, a charter member of the Asian International Business Advisory Group, a Forbes contributing writer and columnist for the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He is currently facilitating talks between China and U.S. interests on such matters as clean energy economics, nanotechnology and commercial aerospace. While it sounds way cooler than it really is, he is also a member of the Bloomberg BusinessWeek Market Advisory Board and the McKinsey Quarterly Executive Panel. You can follow him on Twitter @raykwong. Eyeball Ray's posts from Forbes ChinaTalk.
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