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Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy goes beyond political rivalry

  • Tin Hinane El Kadi

    Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham Housث

    باحث مشارك، برنامج الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا، تشاثام هاوس--

  • Sophie Zinser

    Academy Associate, Middle East North Africa Programme and Asia-Pacific Programme, Chatham House


Vaccine distribution is becoming a key strategic feature of China’s foreign relations. But critics have suggested that China’s so-called ‘vaccine diplomacy’ is merely a way to further entrench its presence in countries where it seeks diplomatic and economic influence and supplant its Western rivals.

Against the backdrop of rising Western scepticism about China’s presence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, media now portrays Beijing vaccine diplomacy as highly politicized. While undeniable that Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy bolsters its soft power and consolidates its influence, these narratives stifle positive responses from MENA countries towards China’s vaccine cooperation.

China’s vaccine diplomacy in MENA aligns with its broader strategy to cast itself as a global health leader. In improving its tarnished image as a non-transparent state accused of hiding the virus’ spread, China hopes to be seen as a responsible, scientific leader capable of fighting the pandemic both domestically and globally.

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