Buddhism in Current China–India Diplomacy

David Scott


Buddhism is being emphasised strongly in both Chinese and Indian public diplomacy, as they both seek to increase their soft-power attractiveness. This article finds that while Buddhism has served to draw the two countries together in their bilateral relationship, their current invocation of Buddhism as a bridge is in many ways an ahistorical reconstruction. The article also finds that Buddhism operates as a tool of diplomacy in a competitive way, as China and India both seek influence among Buddhist countries elsewhere in Asia and among international Buddhist organisations. Finally, this article finds that whereas China’s use of Buddhism is straightforwardly tactical and to a degree disingenuous, India is able to incorporate genuine spiritual elements into its use of Buddhism, albeit within a setting of Hindu reinterpretation of Buddhism. In the future, China could shift from a short-term tactical to a long-term normative use of Buddhism within international socialisation scenarios.

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