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Why China’s Vaccine Outreach in Africa May Not Produce the Soft Power Dividends Many Assume

There’s growing anxiety in many Western capitals that China’s head start in distributing vaccines to African countries will provide Beijing with a powerful diplomatic advantage. While there’s no doubt that China’s vaccine donations are well received on the continent, a trio of Africa analysts at the UK-based global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft make the case that “China’s vaccine diplomacy in Africa unlikely to be a geopolitical game-changer.”

Three Reasons Why China’s Vaccine Outreach Probably Won’t Have a Big Impact

  • PREFERENCE FOR BILATERAL AGREEMENTS: “Although China repeatedly vaunts the merits of multilateralism, Beijing clearly favors supplying its vaccines through bilateral agreements rather than via multilateral structures…. Beijing’s preference for bilateral deals will likely hinder China’s ability to carve out a dominant role in the region’s immunization strategy, given that the majority of doses are likely to come through multilateral structures.”
  • DOMESTIC DEMAND: “The Chinese government will need to prioritize vaccine stocks for its domestic immunization program, as Beijing can ill afford to be seen to be neglecting the home front. This may limit the supply of COVID-19 vaccines it can provide to the region bearing in mind it also has ambitions in other parts of the world.”
  • COMPETITORS: “African governments will likely seek to purchase vaccines from a variety of sources, as rapidly securing the necessary vaccine doses is their foremost priority. They are therefore unlikely to become dependent on a single provider, further limiting China’s influence. Only in exceptional cases such as Congo, Guinea, Senegal, Seychelles and Zimbabwe, do Chinese vaccines make up a significant proportion of the total supply.”

Read the full report on the Verisk Maplecroft website.

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