China has gained more prominence in terms of its global health leadership during the coronavirus pandemic. The state dispatched medical teams and supplies to many Belt and Road countries in the last six months. Sinopharm, a large state-owned Chinese pharmaceutical company, established its first overseas COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial program in collaboration with G42, an artificial intelligence and cloud computing company based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in June 2020, setting up an example for high-level medical research collaborations between China and BRI countries. In addition, the demand for medical and personal protective supplies have also created a niche market for small Chinese businesses of all sorts. Such multilevel flows of medical resources from China into BRI countries are instrumental in constructing China’s “Health Silk Road.”
To assess the opportunities and challenges of the emerging “Health Silk Road” in BRI countries, this paper zooms in to examine a case of Chinese Muslim medical enterprises and practitioners in Dubai – the key hub for the flow of medical resources from China to the Arabian Gulf. Given the unique roles of Chinese Muslims in Sino-UAE relations, a close examination of the success enjoyed by Chinese Muslim medical practitioners and the obstacles they face enables a deeper reflection on the interactions between religion, Chinese medicine, and the geopolitical structures in BRI countries.