China's Global Health Diplomacy: Possibilities and Limitations for Cooperation

Cover photo: © :IMAGO/Blue Jean Images via Reuters Connect
Cover photo: © :IMAGO/Blue Jean Images via Reuters Connect

China is an indispensable actor to global health. Given the sheer size of its population, epidemiological history, and its economic development, China is obviously a vital element in creating and maintaining sustainable strategies to contribute to health-related sustainable development goals (SDGs), prevent and mitigate the spread of future epidemics, and also facilitate innovations in health technology. Without the involvement of China, the global health governance system will have a serious gap. A failure to include China in the system could thus undermine global health governance’s ability to combat disease outbreaks and provide for other health related global public goods such as adaptation and mitigation strategies to climate change. International health cooperation is not only useful, but also essential, in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak and future pandemics. The Netherlands, as a long-time supporter of global health and strategic partner of WHO, should proactively explore possibilities for cooperation with China.


This report has been written for the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to understand the role of China in global health and explore viable policy options for the Netherlands to engage with China in global health. Based on the academic and professional expertise of the two researchers, an extensive desk-based literature review was conducted between October 2022 and April 2023. There are three main expected outcomes of the report:


1. Understanding how the evolving global/public health strategies in Europe, BRICS, Africa, and other regions/countries (such as Suriname) relate to China’s domestic public health policies and Beijing’s foreign policy strategies;

2. Analysing opportunities and limitations for global health policy engagement with China;

3. Developing key policy recommendations with concrete and operational propositions of which stakeholders could be engaged with in China.


About the authors:

Dr Catherine Lo specialises in international relations and global health. She was awarded a Ph.D. in Security Studies by the University of Hong Kong. At University College Maastricht, Maastricht University, she has been teaching and researching topics including Chinese foreign policy, EU-China relations, global health governance, and Chinese health diplomacy. Her book HIV/AIDS in China and India: Governing Health Security (Palgrave Macmillan 2015) has won the Global Health Section Prize for the best book award from the International Studies Association (ISA) in 2017.


Dr Remco van de Pas is a public health doctor and a global health researcher. He works as senior research associate at the Centre for Planetary Health Policy in Berlin and as a lecturer in global health at the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp. He is also associate research fellow at Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations and at Maastricht University. His teaching and research focus on global health governance, its political economy and foreign policy. Previously, he worked as policy advisor for Wemos, a public health foundation advocating for social justice and as medical coordinator for the NGO Médecins du monde, of which the largest part in Indonesia.

Maastricht University

Maastricht University (UM) is the most international university in the Netherlands and, with nearly 22,000 students and 4,400 employees, is still growing. The university distinguishes itself with its innovative education model, international character and multidisciplinary approach to research and education.