Vaccine Diplomacy and Beyond: New Trends in Chinese Image-building in Africa

In the face of growing tensions between the US and China, Beijing’s relationships with the Global South are taking on particular salience. Africa has long been a testing ground for Chinese public diplomacy tools. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven important in this regard. However, while China’s so-called mask and vaccine diplomacy has drawn a lot of comment, many of these approaches reflect trends in Chinese public diplomacy that predate the current crisis. This paper maps and contextualises new developments in China’s use of public diplomacy in Africa. Specifically, it focuses on the practice of crisis public diplomacy, as seen throughout the pandemic and particularly in response to the global outcry following the mass eviction of African migrants in the Chinese city of Guangzhou in April 2020. The paper shows that while Chinese diplomats have experimented with many innovative public diplomacy tools, the Guangzhou incident occasioned a retreat to more conventional methods.