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C3S Monograph: Dharma Diplomacy: Buddhism in India and China; By Vaishnavi Pallapothu

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

C3S Monograph: 01/2020

C3S launches its Monograph initiative. A monograph is a single topic research summary of the knowledge surrounding an issue or a problem. It summarises the issue giving clear, concise and complete information describing all facets of a particular issue including a detailed illustration in the form of images, data, and facts. It also includes recommendations for action and predictions on the future course of an issue.

Monographs are available for download as PDFs.


Buddhism is the world’s fourth-largest religion, with over 520 million followers worldwide. The Buddhist religion and philosophy developed from the teachings of the Buddha (born and known as Siddhārtha Gautama), a teacher who lived between the mid-6th and 4th centuries, BCE. In Sanskrit, Buddha translates to ‘awakened one’. Buddhism is believed to have originated in Northeast India, spreading from there to many regions in Southeast Asia such as China, Japan and Sri Lanka. Buddhism has always been one of the most prevalent religions in Asia, as well as around the world, and has played a central role in the spiritual and cultural life in many parts of the continent.

In fact, Buddhism’s influence and reach extend beyond the borders of India and China and has been an intensifying factor for Asian bonding and connectivity. Buddhism is embedded in several Southeast Asian countries’ nationalistic policies and has served as a unifying force in countries like Myanmar and Thailand. Buddhism has already gained prominence in India’s diplomacy for fostering deeper engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries as part of the ‘Look East’ and ’Act East’ policy. The Buddhist conferences hosted by India at Nalanda have invited monks and dignitaries from Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam. China has also attempted to host Buddhist gatherings in the form of World Buddhist Forums (WBF) in 2009, 2012 and 2015 to convey to neighbouring countries that Chinese communist authorities approve of Buddhism.

Given the common goals and desires of both the Indian and Chinese governments in using Buddhism to enhance their economies and improve cultural and political ties with other countries, there is potential to result in far-reaching consequences that could impact India-China ties and Southeast Asian countries.

In light of the dynamics observed above, this monograph explores answers to the following questions:

  1. What are China’s intentions behind its policies, decisions and propaganda about Buddhism?

  2. What are the contours of initiatives undertaken by India and China with respect to Buddhist tourism?

  3. How does India and China’s Buddhist diplomacy shape relations with Southeast Asia?

  4. What are the potential sources of friction in using Buddhism as a soft-power enhancing measure (eg. China’s claims on Buddhism as an ancient Chinese religion as well as their hostility towards Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama) between the countries? Is there scope for cooperation between the countries while promoting Buddhist tourism?

Read the full PDF at this link:

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About the Author

(Vaishnavi Pallapothu is a student at the University of London pursuing her Bachelor of Science in International Relations and Affairs. An avid reader and writer, she is deeply interested in teaching and social activism including learning new languages. She was an intern with the Chennai Centre for China Studies. The views and opinions expressed in this monograph are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of C3S.)

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