In October 2023, Catherine Lo from Maastricht University took the honour of being the co-author of the first REMIT paper in “Humanities & Social Sciences Communications”.

“This article examines the effectiveness of Chinese vaccine diplomacy in the Philippines and Vietnam,” explains Catherine about the article. “Both countries are key trading partners of China in the region, but they have been the most vocal in expressing their concerns over growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea (SCS). The SCS has periodically flared up for the last twenty years as regional governance and security challenges. Considering that bilateral and multilateral efforts to resolve the conflict have all failed, it is salient to understand whether vaccine diplomacy could be a viable solution to de-escalate potential military conflicts between China and the claimants. Many thanks to the two anonymous reviewers for their invaluable feedback on the manuscript, and thanks go to Roberta Haar for her continuous support throughout the writing process.”


Vaccine diplomacy is a subset of global health diplomacy and refers to the use and delivery of vaccines to achieve a country’s global health goals and foreign policy objectives. Countries have used vaccine diplomacy to increase their soft power during the COVID-19 pandemic. China, an emerging world power, was no exception in this trend. By December 2022, China had dispatched 1.65 billion vaccines worldwide; approximately one-third of the Chinese vaccines were sent to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. China attempted to increase its soft power via vaccine diplomacy to appeal to its neighbours with which it has long-standing territorial disputes in the South China Sea (SCS). Focusing on two key claimants in the SCS, our study has the following research question: How effective was Chinese COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy in the Philippines and Vietnam from a soft power perspective? Through a qualitative multiple case study research design, we determined the effectiveness of Chinese vaccine diplomacy in the Philippines and Vietnam by using four indicators of soft power: public opinion, foreign policy, attractiveness, and business and trade. Data collection consisted of a literature search of academic literature and newspaper articles that were published between 26 May and 13 June 2022. A thematic analysis was conducted to analyse the data. Analysing the effectiveness of Chinese vaccine diplomacy based on the four indicators of soft power, our results show that only the indicators of attractiveness in Vietnam and business and trade in the Philippines have somewhat improved. In contrast, the indicators of public opinion and foreign policy showed neutral or negative results for China. This study concludes that Chinese vaccine diplomacy in the Philippines and Vietnam during the COVID-19 pandemic was unsuccessful from a soft power perspective. One reason is that China undermined its soft power approach by simultaneously using hard power tactics in Southeast Asia. Using vaccine diplomacy to increase soft power is not always desirable from a global health perspective. Instead, countries should focus on equitable vaccine access and address asymmetrical power relations.

Full citation:

van Dijk, R.J.L., Lo, C.Yp. The effect of Chinese vaccine diplomacy during COVID-19 in the Philippines and Vietnam: a multiple case study from a soft power perspective.Humanit Soc Sci Commun 10, 687 (2023).

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