In this policy brief, Yoshiko Ashiwa and David Wank argue that the global promotion of Buddhism as a form of soft power by the Chinese state is unprecedented in the modern world. Recent efforts to incorporate Buddhism into Chinese foreign policy build on decades of collaboration between the Communist Party of China and Buddhist clerics through the state religious system. Under current President Xi Jinping, the Chinese state is directing more resources for Buddhism to serve the political and economic rise of China through religion and culture. Projecting Chinese Buddhism as soft and sharp—that is, state-controlled and targeted—power ultimately seeks to influence the societies and politics of Buddhist-majority countries, Western states, and Asian competitors to China.
This policy brief was written as part of the Geopolitics of Religious Soft Power project, a partnership between Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and the Brookings Institution supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.