Skip to content


Early Career Researchers



Sino-Latin American Relations during COVID-19: Tracing the trajectory of Beijing’s influence in the Western Hemisphere

After two decades of intense engagement, China has become a key player in Latin America. Since 2017, Beijing has started incorporating Latin American partners into the BRI via the signing of multiple MoUs. Currently, twenty countries from the region have joined the Chinese endeavour. Then, with the pandemic outbreak, the region has become one of the main targets of Beijing’s so-called mask diplomacy. Moreover, a large share of the Chinese vaccines distributed around the globe has been channelled to the area.

The presentation will analyse the reception and results of Beijing’s health diplomacy in the region. In line with the long-term strategy pursued in the Western Hemisphere and despite a mixed record in terms of local reactions, Beijing’s initiatives during the pandemic seem to have laid the foundations for deeper cooperation and stronger leverage with the Latin American counterparts. For instance, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile have agreed to establish new plants to produce the Sinovac vaccine in their territories. In addition, although not triggered directly by the vaccine diplomacy, other events seem to confirm Beijing’s success. This is the case of Managua’s decision to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing or Argentina’s recent entrance into the BRI.


‘One Pandemic, Two Systems’? Chinese state and non-state companies’ responses to COVID-19 in Africa

The elusive memorandum of understandings and sketched project lists characterising the Health Silk
Road (HSR) prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly turned into a flexible framework
to promote (Chinese-led) international cooperation efforts in the health sector. Such flexibility –
reminiscent of the purposedly vague agreements signed under the umbrella of the broader Belt and
Road Initiative (BRI) – opens up a range of threads and opportunities, which, inevitably, are
interpreted differently by different actors. The presentation zooms into two very different realities,
namely that of Chinese state and non-state companies on the African continent, to highlight the
heterogenous significance of the HSR. Drawing mainly from the cases of Ghana and Kenya, this
presentation rests on an understanding of the BRI as a process simultaneously shaping and being
shaped by a broad range of interests and agendas, resulting in multifaceted outcomes for those
experiencing policies made at the centre (Beijing) along the HRS route. It argues that while the HSR
can represent an opportunity for small-, middle-, and large-scale companies to ‘go out’, serve
Chinese diasporic communities overseas (alongside local communities), and solidify the perception
of China as a norm-maker, this initiative can also open room for critiques around practices within
and outwith the health sector, increase reputational risks, and, finally, represent as a vehicle for the
reproduction of China’s comparative advantages as a global player.


From Social Recognition to Marginalisation. The Evolution of COVID-19 Securitisation in China

When the novel coronavirus began to circulate beyond China’s borders, the Beijing government was blamed for the health crisis, increasing the country’s marginalisation, which this perceived as a threat. China was indeed severely criticised by the international community for lack of transparency and having covered the size of the epidemic in the early stages, breaking international norms on public health. As a reaction, the ruling leadership elaborated a narrative in words and images aimed at preventing China’s belonging to the international community and reputation at the expense, however, of Western powers. Thus, not only did China defend its compliance with the international law and displayed itself as a benefactor, providing help in terms of health equipment and medical staff worldwide, but it also emphasised the incapacity of the US-led West to cope with the diffusion of the pandemic. It triggered a widespread sense of insecurity. Since early 2020, the legitimacy of multilateral institutions, such as the UN and its agencies, above all the WHO, has been challenged up to the point that the pandemic was largely associated with a failure of global governance. A securitisation dilemma, therefore, arose whereby the securitisation of the pandemic performed by China had the consequence of rising additional threats at the international institutional level.


Health Diplomacy with a Historical Twist: Investigating China’s Reputational Build-Up in Central Asia during COVID-19

Wuhan virus”, “China virus”, and “Kung flu” are the three popular (and unfortunate) expressions that have permanently branded the Covid-19 pandemic as an export of the second world economy, driving a wedge between China’s international status and its trademark self-constructed image of fuzeren daguo 负责任大国 (i.e. responsible great power).

The contribution investigates China’s attempts to regain reputational power internationally after the damage inflicted by the global spread of Covid-19 infections from the Hubei city of Wuhan. Acknowledging the centrality of historical memory in China’s foreign policy and diplomacy (e.g. Wang 2015), the study enquires about how instances of past cooperation were integrated into China’s policies and discourse to limit and reverse reputational losses with the country’s foreign partners. The research is rooted in an argument drawn by social-constructivism, contending that, during reputational crises, China constructs one-sided interpretations of successful historical cooperation to bank on alternative realities under whose lens foreign audiences re-evaluate the country’s current international standing.

To test this proposition, the research presents the preliminary findings of a case study on China’s discursive constructions of health cooperation with the Central Asian neighbours of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. In light of Turkmenistan’s unique political and government-declared null infectious status, the country was, in fact, excluded from the case studies. Software-assisted qualitative discourse analysis was employed to analyse various data, including government documents, press releases, speeches and media articles, media reports and secondary literature in Russian (translated) and Chinese.

The research aims to inform debates on historical memory’s role in policymaking while also seeking to contribute to discussions on China’s responses to the China threat theory.


Wang, Zheng. 2015. ‘The Legacy of Historical Memory and China’s Foreign Policy in the 2010s’. In Misunderstanding Asia: International Relations Theory and Asian Studies over Half a Century, edited by Gilbert Rozman, 227–39. International Relations and Comparisons in Northeast Asia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.1057/9781137506726_12.


Health Silk Road vs IHR. Which future for the health security regime? 

Over the past two decades, several factors have amplified the risk of emerging infectious diseases spreading beyond
national and regional borders. Before Covid-19, concerns had already been raised over Southeast Asia’s environmental,
social, and demographic specificities and its traditional aversion to accepting global and formal international governance
instruments. With its large size and population and high economic growth, China will shape international health-security
policy at the local, regional, and global levels.
This short contribution explores China’s participation in that policymaking by considering its compliance with the
International Health Regulations (IHR) and their custodian agency, the World Health Organization (WHO).
More precisely, the research aims at understanding how the Chinese efforts linked to the Health Silk Road (HSR)
initiative can or cannot be accommodated into the existing health security regime. The preliminary analysis shows that,
notwithstanding a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the WHO and Beijing in 2017, the nature
and quality of Chinese health commitment within the BRI may open the floor for contestation in the health security
regime. Of this unspoken conflict between norms and principles, the Covid-19 crisis has been a litmus paper. Virtually
overnight, health was promoted from a marginal to a critical subject of the BRI and has shown Beijing’s readiness and
ability to reach out to countries and regions not only in Southeast Asia and the Global South but also in Latin America
and the Arab World. Whether these (soft) strategies to exercise influence will work depends on many technical and
political variables, from the effectiveness of the Chinese containment strategy net of social and political costs, to
Washington’s reaction to the CCP’s global health ambitions. The ongoing discussion about a pandemic treaty or
introducing amendments to the IHR will be the next ground for confrontation.


Covid-19 Human Rights and China’s Foreign Policy: from de-stigmatization to reciprocation.
Scholars and activists examining the topic of China and human rights, tend to focus on the allegedly deteriorating human rights situation across China. Yet, little is written about the role that human rights play in China’s foreign policy. Since the 1990s, China’s approach to the international human rights regime and discourse, heavily influenced by the US foreign policy, has shifted from almost neglect to active engagement. This paper explores China’s human rights strategy in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. In doing so, it analyses China’s approach to the UN Human Rights Council with a focus on China’s annual reports on the “Human Rights Record of the United States” as a reciprocated strategy to counter-stigmatize US Annual Human Right Reports on China. A discursive analysis reveals the underlying ideology on human rights and argues that China’s human rights strategy attempts to not only destigmatize the country but also reciprocate the US.


Rising powers and human security: Unpacking China’s health diplomacy in Southeast Asia

With its engagement in the international society, China increasingly cares about its international reputation and aims to establish a positive image as a responsible great power. To eliminate the reputational costs associated with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China employs soft diplomatic tools and provides medical assistance – for instance, by donating surgical masks and test kits and dispatching medical teams – especially to the Global South countries. Among them, Southeast Asia is a major focus for China’s health diplomacy, or so-called “mask diplomacy”. Drawing upon the theory of socialisation and norm contestation, this presentation will analyse how China conducts health diplomacy in Southeast Asia during the pandemic and explore to what extent China’s health diplomatic postures contest the liberal principles of human protection and human security. It will also examine the reactions of Southeast Asian countries towards China’s health diplomacy in order to investigate the effectiveness of China’s health diplomacy in terms of enhancing China’s international image and status. Based on this, the presentation can further provide implications for the debate on how effectively China has translated its economic power into the moral legitimacy and normative influence in the regional and international order(s).


Senior Discussants

MATTEO DIAN, Associate Professor, University of Bologna, Department of Political and Social Sciences

WRENN YENNIE LINDGREN, Senior Research Fellow, the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, & Associate Research Fellow, The Swedish Institute of International Affairs

The conversation will be open to additional participants 

who have an interest in the topic