China’s Health Diplomacy: Taking Forward the Health Silk Road in Southeast Asia

Focus Asia September, 2021, pp. 11

Geopolitical competition over Covid-19 vaccines is at its peak. In the absence of a fair and equitable mechanism to coordinate vaccine access, procurement seems to be based either on nationalistic goals or on geopolitical favors. While the extent to which major powers like the US and China are using vaccine diplomacy to create long-term dependencies is yet to be seen, signs of it are already noticeable, for example, in Southeast Asia. China’s health diplomacy there is not new but has always been a major part of their strategic relationship and China’s Health Silk Road. Increasing spotlight on it has, however, invited an increased sense of fervor among the Western countries to also court the region. Engagements are already in full swing, and the ASEAN countries are adopting multilateralism to navigate these complex dynamics. So, this paper first seeks to trace the trajectory of China’s health diplomacy in Southeast Asia. Secondly, we shall see how the Chinese health silk road is opening doors to strategic vaccine diplomacy for China.

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