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Will China’s global investment in ‘vaccine diplomacy’ pay off?

(AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
A nurse prepares a dose of China's Sinopharm vaccine during a priority COVID-19 vaccination of health workers at a public hospital in Lima, Peru, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021.

For decades, the United States was a global leader in providing relief when disaster struck around the globe. But American use of soft power has receded in recent years, opening  a door for China and other countries to offer COVID-19 vaccines around the world in hope of strengthening their alliances during the pandemic.

China, India, and other proponents of vaccine diplomacy believe they will earn support and goodwill internationally at a time when the U.S. is focused on curbing the coronavirus at home. China, which approved its COVID-19 vaccine in December amid questions about its clinical trial data, moved quickly to sell or donate doses to 30 countries. China has committed an additional 10 million doses to Covax, an international organization that is distributing vaccines to developing nations.

“We are seeing China aggressively move to find ways to access populations that the U.S. in the past would have been a major donor to,” says Daniel Aldrich, director of the security and resilience studies program at Northeastern. “China very much would like to be the next power. The only question is, at what time will China emerge as the next major contestant with the U.S. for power diplomacy?”

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