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HomeGeopolitical CompassEast AsiaThe Evolving Nature of China’s Military Diplomacy: From Visits to Vaccines

The Evolving Nature of China’s Military Diplomacy: From Visits to Vaccines

Author: Meia Nouwens

Affiliation: International Institute for Strategic Studies

Organization/Publisher: International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Date/Place: May 10, 2021/UK

Type of Literature: Research Paper

Number of Pages: 16


Keywords: China, Diplomacy, Military, COVID-19


The Chinese armed forces or People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been increasing its leverage on military diplomacy alongside China’s national diplomacy activities especially during the global COVID-19 pandemic. In this study, the author examines the PLA’s military role, its prioritization of recipients, and the narratives behind its diplomacy activities. Historically, the PLA has had a small role within China’s national diplomacy agenda, which it has used to hide its strength while biding time to maintain an image of China’s ‘peaceful rise’. However, by 2021 the hide and bide policy of China’s foreign policy has transformed into more nationalistic and assertive foreign policy. According to Xi Jinping, Military diplomacy should support overall national policy, protect national security, sovereignty, development interest, and promote military construction. In the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Beijing has been increasing its diplomatic efforts like Mask diplomacy and Vaccine diplomacy. The PLA has begun its role in coronavirus military diplomacy in the first half of 2020, and the author shows that there is a correlation between PLA diplomacy activities and China’s control over its domestic and foreign outbreak. After China succeeded in its domestic response to the coronavirus outbreak during February and March 2020, in the following month, China began to conduct COVID-19-related military diplomacy by sending protective equipment and clothing, donating medical supplies, and sharing medical assistance. The author shows that PLA diplomacy activities were mostly engaged with the Asian-Pacific and African countries, a distribution that reflects China’s prioritization in foreign policy and interests. These regions represent a source of energy and raw materials for China or other important security issues in the Asia-Pacific region. Finally, the author argues that PLA’s COVID-19-related military diplomacy is narrated to save China’s image after being framed as the ‘responsible stakeholder’ in the dawn of the coronavirus outbreak. 

By: Salman Nugraha, CIGA Research Intern



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