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Chinese Scholar: Buddhism Used as a Tool of Diplomacy

The primary Taiwanese news agency Central News Agency (CNA) recently reported that Liu Yuguang, a mainland China scholar on Buddhism, warned that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses Buddhism as a diplomacy tool in order to expand its influence over Southeast Asian governments.

Liu Yuguang, an associate professor at the School of Philosophy, Fudan University, Shanghai, made these remarks at a lecture on Buddhism that the Institute of East Asian Studies of National Chengchi University held in Taiwan.

According to Liu, the CCP is attempting to legitimize its claim that China is a “Buddhist power” by touting the fact that the total number of Buddhist believers in mainland China exceeds those in other Southeast Asian countries. Also, since Buddhism in India has declined, the CCP has been promoting China as the “new motherland of Buddhism.” It is part of the CCP’s internal propaganda that “Buddhism is the Chinese people’s religion,” which is used to stoke nationalism. However, although the CCP provides some breathing space for Buddhism, it is a quid pro quo. “I let you live, so you have to serve me.”

While domestically, the CCP views religions as a national security matter, such as subversion, secession, and religious terrorism, it has not neglected turning Buddhism into a diplomacy tool for foreign relations.

According to Liu, the CCP has realized that Confucius Institutes outside China have failed as a large-scale foreign propaganda tool because people think that “after all, they [Confucius Institutes] are merely about Chinese.” To expand the CCP’s influence effectively, it has turned to Buddhism as a propaganda tool in its attempts to influence Southeast Asian countries’ believers in Buddhism and their governments. Because Buddhism is practiced throughout Asia, the CCP believes that using Buddhism in its diplomacy will eventually help influence the Asian governments.

For example, the CCP has established religious educational institutions in mainland China such as the Nanhai Buddhist Academy on Hainan Island. The purpose is not to offer training to domestic religious communities but to attract monks from Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia and Laos. The religious educational institutions help the CCP cultivate relationships with Southeast Asian countries and ultimately use religion to influence political circles in Southeast Asian countries and to lobby and promote bilateral relations on terms favorable to China.

Source: CNA, April 1, 2021.