China’s burgeoning economic and security activities abroad have given rise to suspicions and criticisms of its intentions. As Buddhism is a shared faith and heritage among many Chinese; an integral part of national identities of Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia; a proud legacy in India; and a major religion in Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Mongolia, Korea, and Japan, winning over the trust and friendship of neighboring Buddhist countries has emerged as an important Chinese diplomatic initiative, especially under the current Xi Jinping leadership’s enterprise to revive the Silk Road. Having over 245 million Buddhists, 28,000 Buddhist monasteries, 16,000 temples, and 240,000 Buddhist monks and nuns makes the promotion of Buddhism a rich source of soft-power, or “soul power,” for China, generated from its heavy investments in building Buddhist institutions and engaging Buddhist groups in these countries. However, there are external and domestic challenges in using Buddhism as a Chinese foreign policy vehicle. The paper analyzes what the objectives of China’s Buddhist diplomacy are; which personnel, organizations, or state bureaus in China make China’s Buddhist diplomacy; how is it carried out; what the targeted institutions and personnel in the affected countries are; the reactions from these countries; and the extent to which a Communist regime is able to carry out its promotion of Buddhism in Asia despite its professed atheism. The analysis is conducted through the spectrum of two major perspectives in international relations literature: neo-realism and constructivism.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Partial financial support for this study was received from Lingnan University (Hong Kong)’s Social Sciences Faculty Research Grant.
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.
- Asia influence
- Buddhist diplomacy