Securitizing HIV/AIDS: A Game Changer in State-Societal Relations in China?

Catherine Lo*

*Corresponding author for this work

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China has experienced unprecedented economic growth since the 1980s. Despite this impressive economic development, this growth exists side by side with the human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crises and the persisting deficiencies in public health provision in China. Acknowledging the prevailing health problems, the Chinese government has encouraged the development of health non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to respond to the health challenges and address the gaps in public health provision of the government. HIV/AIDS-focused NGOs have been perceived as the most outstanding civil society group developed in China. Considering the low priority of health policies since the economic reform, the limitation of the “third sector” activity permitted in authoritarian China, together with the political sensitivity of the HIV/AIDS problem in the country, this article aims to explain the proliferation of HIV/AIDS-focused NGOs in China with the usage of the securitization framework in the field of international relations (IR).

The research that underpins this article is based on a desk-based literature review as well as in-depth field interviews with individuals working in HIV/AIDS-focused NGOs in China. Face-to-face interviews for this research were conducted between January and May in 2011, and between December 2016 and January 2017, in China. Discourse analysis was in particular employed in the study of the security-threat framing process (securitization) of HIV/AIDS in China.

This article argues that the proliferation of HIV/AIDS-related NGOs in China is largely attributed to the normative and technical effects of HIV/AIDS securitization ushered in by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and supported by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (hereinafter Global Fund) observed in China. Despite depicting a positive scenario, the development of HIV/AIDS-focused NGOs in China generated by the international securitization efforts is largely limited. An internal and external factor was identified to verify the argument, namely (1) the reduction of international financial commitments, as well as (2) the fragmentation of HIV/AIDS-focused NGO community in China.

This article shows that international securitization weakened with the rise of Chinese commitment on HIV/AIDS interventions. In other words, HIV/AIDS-related responses delivered by the national government are no longer checked by the global mechanism of HIV/AIDS; thus it is unclear whether these NGOs would remain of interest as partners for the government. The fragmentation of the HIV/AIDS community would further hinder the development, preventing from NGOs with the same interest forming alliances to call for changes in current political environment. Such restriction on the concerted efforts of HIV/AIDS-related NGOs in China would make achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to foster stronger partnerships between the government and civil society difficult, which in turn hindering the realization of ending HIV/AIDS in the world by 2030.
Original languageEnglish
Article number50
Number of pages14
JournalGlobalization and Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2018


  • HIV/AIDS securitization
  • Health NGOs in China
  • Global health initiatives (GHIs)
  • Global Fund
  • United Nations Security Council (UNSC)
  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • AIDS
  • Humans
  • Organizations
  • HIV Infections/epidemiology
  • China/epidemiology
  • Public-Private Sector Partnerships


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