Think Tank (2/2021)
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COVID-19 and the Future of Diplomacy
02 Mar 2021

As part of the RSIS webinar series on Post-Pandemic Multilateralism and Diplomacy, the Centre for Multilateralism Studies hosted an event on 2 March 2021 titled “COVID-19 and the Future of Diplomacy”. The webinar saw the panellists deliberate on the challenges brought about by diplomacy having gone virtual — such as public messaging where misinformation could mix with nationalist sentiments to create new pressures on countries.

Dr Kitti Prasirtsuk, Vice-Rector for International Affairs and Associate Professor of Political Science at Thailand’s Thammasat University, highlighted the spread of COVID-19 as an important juncture in global politics, with the crisis having allowed Asian countries to demonstrate their competence. He noted that there has been a tactical shift of power from the West to the East in recent years.  However, this shift has been complicated by factors such as anti-Asian sentiment in the West as an unfortunate fallout of COVID-19 as well as the increase in great power competition.

Ms Ariel Bogle, Analyst at the International Cyber Policy Centre, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, outlined how countries that are developing their own COVID-19 vaccines, such as China, India and Russia, are using Western social media platforms to amplify positive narratives about their own vaccines. However, vaccine diplomacy has also led to misinformation campaigns targeting certain vaccines or amplifying negative stories about rival vaccines without proper context. For instance, the Pfizer vaccine has often been targeted by Chinese and Russian state media in misinformation campaigns amplifying negative stories surrounding it. Sentiment analysis shows that such misinformation campaigns do have the impact of raising negative sentiments and might undermine public trust in vaccines, Ms Bogle noted.

The webinar concluded with Dr Alfred Gerstl, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow at the Department of Asian Studies, Palacký University Olomouc, Czech Republic, noting that since the COVID-19 vaccine is a global public good with limited supply, multilateralism is the logical process to avoid competition and “vaccine nationalism”. Dr Gerstl emphasised that while COVID-19 is a global problem concerning international relations, global governance, social justice and political philosophy, the pandemic has now become mainly an example for geopolitical rivalry, with vaccines as the new soft power tool in an enlarged diplomatic toolbox, especially for China, Russia and India.

Catch it here on the RSISVideoCast YouTube channel:

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