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The Unofficial Ambassadors: A Comparative Study of Indian and Chinese Diaspora In Southeast Asia; By

Image courtesy: Singapore Policy Journal

Article No. 053/2018


India and China have enjoyed immense regional influence across Asia due to their economic exchange, historical and cultural linkages. Existing indicators shows that, over the past decade both (India & China) have become significant economic partners in Southeast Asia. They have built stronger ties through trade, investment, economic aid, people to people ties and diplomacy with the region. Among these one soft power aspect is ‘Diaspora’. Diaspora possess the ability to structure a nation’s foreign policy without using coercion or hard power and that is why they are called soft power operatives.

Observing the case of Southeast Asia, ethnic Chinese and Indian settlers have been associated with the region and their society since ancient times. Historically it is evident that both India and China have played a major role in influencing culture and various other domains in Southeast Asia. People from southern China were among those who established maritime trade and fishing businesses along the region’s coastline. They sailed to Southeast Asia for discovering new avenues for trade and commerce, many of them settling permanently. Except for cases of friction between China and some Southeast nations during 1980’s and 1990’s, initiatives from Beijing to launch neighborhood policies have tremendous impact.

India’s tryst with Southeast Asia has also been manifest since ancient times. In fact, the ancient Silk Route saw equal participation from India as well, parallel to that of China. Indian civilizational aspects influenced those of Southeast Asia. India has been a source of inspiration for art, religion and architecture in countries belonging to the present day ASEAN countries. Some of the monuments in Southeast Asia have resemblance of Indian temples because of their scales, stone carvings and wall painting. Similarly Southeast Asia has created literary works based on Indian epic – Ramayana but with few modifications which can correlate with their culture and society. Hindu priests and monks accompanied the traders and merchants from India to Southeast Asia and they paved the way in spreading Indian thought. Since they had no political ambitions they were welcomed in the region. Brahmin priests who accompanied traders were invited to play important roles in the royal courts as astrologers, advisors to the king and priests to perform royal ceremonies etc.

Coming to the present day, Chinese and Indian diaspora are estimated to be largest diaspora’s in the world, comprising roughly 80-90 million[i]. Growing trends such as technological advancements, global markets, and political participations are seen in this information age. This has led countries to hire more labourers who are non-natives, including the diaspora community.

Ethnic Chinese living in host nations share a sense of collective identity with their home country – China. Such deep attachment towards their country of origin definitely comes with perks for the government in China as Beijing gets to engage with the Chinese diaspora and hence get much needed investments in return.

Ethnic Chinese are minorities in Southeast Asian countries, yet they are dominating local markets. For example; in Malaysia, Chinese owned businesses account for 70% of the country’s market capitalization. In Indonesia, the Chinese hold a large share of the private economy, whilst constituting just 1% of the population. In Philippines, they constitute 1% of the population and control 60% of the private economy’[ii]. This disparity between the population and their share of wealth demonstrates their growing economic might in few Southeast Asian nations. The research studies remittances figure which is sent to the home country by Indian and Chinese diaspora. Contributions of the diaspora in their host countries are also highlighted.  Apart from remuneration this paper will also focus on other engagements of Chinese diaspora in terms of socio-cultural ties.

Chinese diaspora sustain ties with roots of their traditional culture and carry this linkage to most Southeast Asian nations. The Cheng Ho Cultural Museum in Malaysia, the Warung Laota restaurant in Indonesia, the dragon dance performed by a Chinese community in the Philippines and the martial arts training in an elementary school in Brunei showcase[iii] how the Chinese retain a homeland connect. China’s President Xi Jinping’s efforts to energize the Chinese vision has reorganised its own engagement with ethnic Chinese living in Southeast Asia.

On the other hand, the Indian diaspora approach attained a boost since Indian Prime Minister Modi decided to celebrate Regional ‘Pravasi Bhartiya Divas’ in 2018 at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. There is a surge in activities for establishing connection with Indians abroad, particularly with respect to ASEAN. High level visits from Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj to Southeast Asia, Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Vietnam, leaders of 10 ASEAN nations felicitating India’s Republic-day parade by their presence,- these events has captured the attention of people from both sides.

Currently, Indian diaspora in Southeast Asia do not have uniformity in population numbers. Indian community’s presence roughly constitutes to about 8% to 9% (2017 figures) in Malaysia and Singapore. On the other hand, Indonesia’s ethnic Indian population is only 0.5% most of whom are Tamils, Sikhs, Bihari and Sindhis[iv]. Their profession is mostly connected with textile industries, plantation labour, and sports businesses. But current data suggests that there is also a presence of Indians holding senior positions such as chartered accountants, bankers, IT professionals, actors and models.

This paper throws light on certain important aspects of Indian and Chinese Diaspora in Southeast Asia. The research spans the time period from Act East Policy 2015 to present. Here are some of the questions that this article will be focusing on:-

  1. What is the role of these diaspora in shaping economic scenarios in home country (India and China) and host countries in Southeast Asia?

  2. How are India and China leveraging the diaspora in Southeast Asia as a soft power tool?

  3. What is the way forward for India to engage effectively with its diaspora in Southeast Asia?

Role of Indian and Chinese diaspora in shaping economies of home and host country

Shaping economy in the home country

With improving governance scenarios, developing infrastructure and hospitable population as valuable assets; Southeast Asian nations have become an inviting region for world trade and investments. India and China which share close proximity with Southeast Asian nations have significant leverage options in terms of trade, development and joint prosperity. Apart from the mainstream business deals made by financial bodies; diaspora economics has gained prominence in the region.

Diaspora economics is a new term for migration economics[v]. Diaspora activities that impact the socio-economic development of the nation include transactions in various forms such as remittances, investments, business philanthropy etc. This is the case with the Indian and Chinese diaspora in ASEAN. A comparison of economic ventures by Indian and Chinese diaspora will be seen in this section.

Remittance flow:

Ever since China opened its economic doors in the 1970’s, the shift in focus from developing a national economy to connecting China’s economy with the world has been Beijing’s long-term motive. Various studies and research show that China’s attempt to surpass USA’s economic power continues to be a top notch priority. Meanwhile to accomplish that, a pivot factor that has been repeatedly addressed, is the overseas Chinese community and their role in shaping economy in Mainland China.

Table 1: Remittances from Indian and Chinese diaspora living in SEA countries (2016 figures) (Source: Pew Research Centre)Outgoing  –


Ranking among top remittance receiving nations from ASEAN   ChinaRanking among top remittance receiving nations from ASEANThailand $179,000,0006th$817,000,0001stLaos––$16,000,0002ndCambodia<$1,000,0008th$8,000,0003rdVietnam$6,000,0003rd$47,000,0001stSingapore$806,000,0003rd$2,639,000,0001stMalaysia$261,000,0005th$320,000,0004thIndonesia$39,000,0008th$343,000,0001stMyanmar$125,000,0002nd$259,000,0001stPhilippines $38,000,0004th$196,000,0001stBrunei$54,000,0003rd$6,000,0009th

India topped as the highest recipient of remittances globally in 2017, with its global diaspora sending back $69 billion, followed by Chinese diaspora sending $64 billion back home[vi]. While the Indian diaspora in the Gulf and USA are sending back the highest remittances, Southeast Asian nations are nowhere near the top five countries which are sources of remittances to India[vii].

China follows India, in this remittance number game. USA, Hong Kong, Japan are the top three nations which sends highest remittances to China. Ethnic Chinese diaspora in Singapore features at 7th position and Thailand makes it to 14th position in the list of countries who are major sources of remittances to China[viii].

Top factors influencing the remittance flow is the existing number of overseas population residing, nature of their occupation and investments in host countries. Most of overseas Indians in Southeast Asia are labourers and small scale traders. On the other hand, the ethnic Chinese practice large scale businesses, investments and entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia. The remittances sent back by them to Mainland China are utilised in education, health sectors, reducing poverty etc. and thus improving the Chinese national economy.

Contribution to the host countries’ economies

The ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia economically occupy the tertiary sectors of commerce and service. These sectors comprise mostly of bankers, teachers, technicians, skilled engineers and construction workers. The inflow of more Chinese goods and investments has created more jobs in Southeast Asia. This new environment has paved the way for Beijing to have closer integration with ASEAN.

ASEAN economies are definitely experiencing gains from Chinese diaspora through capital and business skills. Chinese diaspora are contributing to an increase in ASEAN’s GDP, exports and average income levels. The figures speak for themselves: In 2003-2007, the average GDP growth rate in ASEAN was 6.1 percent, with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forecast for 2011-2015 at 6.0 percent[ix].

A different story resonates on the Indian side. The contribution of Tamil labourers has made Malaysia one of the largest producers of rubber since erstwhile eras as is in the present. At one point, Indian labourers facilitated producing rice in Burma (present day Myanmar) but shifting migration trends have changed the contours of Myanmar’s rice plantation system[x].

Times have changed, where now the shift is visible as middle-class Indian entrepreneurs are engaging in Southeast Asia. For example,  major Indian corporates have invested in Thailand,  including Aditya Birla Group, Usha Martin Industries, Ranbaxy and Lupin Labs. In Vietnam, a major share of the country’s economy is based on the two and three wheeler automobiles. The Vietnamese showcase one of the most cost effective transportation system. The Indian automobile company, Minda Industries has taken this as an opportunity and installed two-wheeler product manufacturing plants in Vietnam[xi]. In the case of Brunei, 11,000 Indian residents form the 5th largest diaspora population (2016 figures). Out of these, 155 Indian doctors play an important role in the country’s health service.

Chinese Diaspora and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

Recent reports and opinion pieces suggests that few Southeast Asian countries are skeptical about the BRI scheme. This is mainly because of the below par reputation of Chinese investments in countries such as Myanmar, Indonesia and Vietnam. All these issues has led the Chinese investors to function by being indifferent to the partner country’s long term interests.  They claim to assist their economies which can have harmful outcomes in future as seen the case of Hambantota port in Sri Lanka.

Chinese firms are likely to offer jobs to ethnic Chinese over locals while investing in BRI along the Southeast Asian partner countries. Therefore, the ethnic Chinese community is more prone to backlash from Southeast Asians if the former are seen to benefit disproportionately. Local Chinese living in Southeast Asia fear that the growing resistance to China’s BRI project will ultimately threaten their own interests[xii].

Officials from Beijing want the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia to play a positive role in achieving BRI. The political conflict of the past, still lingers in the minds of native Southeast Asians. Lately, Myanmar[xiii] and Cambodia[xiv] are resisting to entertain Chinese investments as the native employees are given no insurances, work benefits or welfare schemes. Outcome of such actions has not been pleasant so far, often leading to strikes by labour unions as seen in Indonesia in 2017[xv]. China being aware of the complicated history with Southeast Asia would be cautious in its approach, to avoid triggering anti-Chinese sentiments that could affect the Chinese diaspora.

India and China leveraging the diaspora in Southeast Asia as a soft power tool

A country needs more than just economic and military strength for achieving great power status in the 21st century. Soft power is subtly yet significantly gaining in substance in the international arena. Power in terms of persuasion, exchanging ideas, cultural interaction and people-to-people contacts are some elements of soft power. Lately, India’s move to globalise ‘Yoga’ as an Indian fitness mantra is seen as soft power strategy. On par, China has tapped its soft power potential through initiatives such as building Confucius Institutes  and investing in BRI project which also has a cultural component.

Southeast Asia is a crucial region where India and China are exploring soft power strategies. Overseas Chinese and Indians are exponentially becoming advocates of their respective home countries in the region. Foreign policies of both the India & China have enhanced their diaspora policy to unprecedented levels but the question remains on which country, India or China, has the upper hand.

Undoubtedly, cultural inter-penetrations have made it easier for countries to amplify their soft power approach and a country’s diaspora constitutes an immense source of ‘soft power’. Recent political visits to ASEAN by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Prime Minister Modi himself had them address the Indian diaspora and engage with them on a cultural basis. Various other soft power dimensions which are being leveraged by India and China in Southeast Asia visàvis diaspora are seen as follows.


China has established more than 41 Confucius institutes in Southeast Asian nations. Thailand alone is host to 13 Chinese educational institutes and 11 Confucius classrooms which are the highest figures for any Southeast Asian country[xvi]. Countries such as Thailand is home to 9 million of overseas Chinese(2015 figures) [xvii]. They too play a role in the founding of such educational institutes. However, these institutes often come under the scanner from the educated populace such as scientists, researchers and professors, since they believe the academies to be tools of communist propaganda. Despite such scrutiny, Thailand has been a country where Confucius institutes are functioning smoothly, with the enrollment of a large number of local youth. The Confucius Institutes provide a Chinese Bridge Fund which sponsors college student exchange programs and supports the development of overseas Chinese persons’ education all over the world[xviii].

The overseas Chinese are found to have a fair fluency in Chinese language[xix] since they descended from early migrants. Confucius Institutes can revive the linguistic connection between Chinese diaspora and their homeland, to an extent. For instance, Mandarin is taught in educational institutes funded/established by Beijing in Southeast Asia. This not only helps China’s own diaspora but also the other Southeast Asian nationals to learn about Chinese language and culture.

India is also noted to cooperate with ASEAN on enhancing educational ties. In the year 2015, an MoU was signed between India and Malaysia to send English teachers from India as there was a massive demand for learning English among the Malays. These Indian teachers dwell as diaspora in Malaysia and may be even helping India to earn foreign exchange. The Indian government does not consider its diaspora as a mere business asset. Measures as seen above are being taken for easing educational concerns of the Indian diaspora in ASEAN. For example, in the 13th ASEAN-India Summit and the 10th East Asia Summit in 2015, Prime Minister Modi addressed the Indian diaspora, while announcing a grant of $1 million to the India- Students Trust Fund which will financially assist Malay-Indian students[xx].

Religion and Festivals

Religious influences from China and India have sowed the seeds for greater engagement with Southeast Asia. Particularly, the Indian diaspora in Thailand consists of various groups who have been settled in Thailand for more than a hundred years. Hinduism and Sikhism are of the key identities that unite the source of faiths i.e. India, and their followers together. The process of transmission of religious beliefs also involves religious institutions such as temples and Gurdwaras, which act as spiritual centres.[xxi] This is applicable in the case of Indian diaspora in ASEAN as well.

Indonesia has shown immense respect towards all religions. Significantly, religions which were brought from India are given prominence. For instance, the Indonesian embassy in USA is reported to have a statue of Hindu Goddesses Saraswati.  This came into instant limelight as Indonesia which has majority of Muslim population, chose a Hindu goddesses to display at an embassy. The Hindu influence in the country can be witnessed in various examples like – Garuda (vehicle of Vishnu according to Hindu mythology) being a symbol for the Indonesia airlines, lord Ganesha’s image in a 20,000 rupiah currency note, Hanuman as official mascot of Indonesian intelligence[xxii] etc.

Tamil Hindus in Singapore and Malaysia celebrate Thaipusam festival to honour Lord Murugan (Hindu god). Several Murugan devotees carry Kavadi ( metal rods pierced through  their skin) to offer it to Subramaniam statue in various places such as Batu Caves , Nattukotai Chettiar Temple (in Malaysia) and Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple (in Singapore).

Songkaran is another traditional New Year festival celebrated (at the end of farming season) in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. It has its roots from Indian festival called Sankranti celebrated during the month of April. Sikhs in Phuket also gather in Gurudwaras to commemorate Vaisakhi during the same time.

Although China has no official religion, and declares itself to be a Communist state, Beijing is promoting the country as a Buddhism hub. Buddhism is popular with homeland Chinese and hence, the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia have always portrayed a Buddhist friendly image towards the locals of the region. This has encouraged more bilateral engagements in the region organised by Buddhist institutions. Vesak, a Buddhist festival (marking birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha) has its significance in ASEAN nations. Candle-lit possessions to Borobudur in Java (Indonesia) and Lian Shan Shuang Lin Temple in Singapore sees participation from Chinese Buddhists of the Mahaynaya persuasion to mark Vesak[xxiii].

In cities with significant ethnic Chinese communities, particularly in Penang state of Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, the festival of Lunar New Year is widely celebrated. Arrangements of street fairs, meeting relatives and shows of firework mark the New Year. Chinese cuisines like As Yu Sheng (tossed raw-fish salad), dumplings and other sea-food delicacies are prepared for the family feast on New Year’s Eve[xxiv]. Apart from Chinese New Year; Hungry Ghost Festival or Vegetarian Festival and other Buddhist festivals are key events for the Chinese community in ASEAN.

Music and Entertainment industry

China- ASEAN music festivals hosted in Southeast Asian countries (since 2012) have nurtured ties with ethnic Chinese in the region. The resultant increase in the number of ASEAN’s Chinese media houses such as newspapers, magazines, TV channels, radio stations and Chinese websites has been promoting Chinese language and culture in Southeast Asia.

For instance, movies that were a blockbuster hit in China such as ‘Goodbye Mr. Looser’ has got a new remake in Malaysia (2018).  The movie was highly acclaimed by native Malays. Looking closely, ties of Malaysia and China in entertainment sector has got a new shape with the Malaysia- China National Film & TV Alliance Association (MCNFTVA). The alliance seeks to telecast stories of ethnic minorities in both Malaysia and China [xxv]. This will connect various ethnic communities and natives from China as well as Malaysia with the stories put up on screen.

But, the Chinese opera which at one point had mass following among the Southeast Asians, now struggles to find followers in the region. People in Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia have shown resistance to China’s increasing influence[xxvi]. However, traditional Chinese opera has managed to survive even today in Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. In order to avoid further decline of Chinese opera, people of Chinese origin in Southeast Asia are attempting to translate it into languages of the country they are living in[xxvii].

There are several cases of music and entertainment linking India and Southeast Asia as well. The Indian central and state governments have been showcasing the country’s art and culture in Southeast Asia. On the private front, there is hosting of award shows (e.g. IIFA and GIMA, SIIMA), Ghazal performances and Indian dance festivals in Southeast Asian destinations. These have extensively addressed the Indian diaspora as well as native followers of Indian entertainment industry.

Dubbed version of ‘Mahabharata’ (Indian mythological TV show 2013-14 aired on Indian TV channels) on Bahasa Indonesia was a massive hit. The show had a record-breaking 7.6% of Indonesian TV viewership[xxviii]. Indian TV actors (Shaheer Sheikh, Shakthi Arora, Mrunal Jain) have a large following in the country and are often offered to be a part of Indonesian TV series, music albums and movies. Seeing this mega cultural unison, officials of Indonesian TV channels planned to market Indian accessories and clothing along with telecasting Indian shows.

Indians in Southeast Asia view this sector as an opportunity to score. Various cultural centres like Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Centre in Jakarta, Indian Association Cambodia etc. have been established by the Indian embassies and communities living in the region. These forums are often buzzing with celebration of Indian festivities or events which are not only open for Indians to participate in but also the local population.

Way forward for India in fine-tuning diaspora relations

A sign of advancement in ASEAN-India ties was when Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi hosted the heads of state of all the 10 nations of ASEAN as special guests on the Republic Day Parade at Delhi on 26th January, 2017.

However it remains that the Indian overseas community in Southeast Asia are national assets which are not fully utilised back home, unlike China’s approach towards its own diaspora in ASEAN. In order to successfully engage Indian diaspora in Southeast Asia, Delhi has to fill the gaps. It is therefore necessary to look at both sides of the coin. The Indian government has so far recognised the output of the Indian diaspora in various forums like Pravasi Bhartiya Divas, India-ASEAN groupings etc. These forums meagerly address the challenges faced by the diaspora.

Addressing ‘statelessness’

The plight of stateless people of Indian origin is yet to be taken into account when it comes to Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. The post-colonial policies in these nations, for attaining citizenship of either the home country or the country of settlement, have several snags. The ‘xenophobic’ nature of few Southeast Asian nations makes it more difficult for these stateless Indians in the region to sustain, at least, one national identity[xxix]. The Indian government did not extend assistance to these stranded persons and the host nations are not ready to accept them without proper paperwork and records supporting their nationality. Due to this, there exists a large degree of mistrust among Indian stateless persons towards the Indian government.

Nevertheless, few Southeast Asian nations are attempting to eliminate the phenomena of ‘statelessness’. This is seen in the case of Malaysia; where the count of stateless people of Indian origin, has reduced from 40,000+ in 2009 to 12,400 in 2014[xxx]. However, Myanmar estimates to have 400,000+ stateless people who are of Indian descent (2012 figures). This dismal figure must be addressed by the Indian government. Necessary steps should be taken such as a census survey, new records, new as well as less stringent norms on dual citizenship and also opportunities back home.

Bridging the gap

‘The Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) status is more about emotions than economics. There is sentimental value, especially for people with children who want their children to stay connected with their country of origin.’[xxxi]

Thomas Abraham,

Chairman of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin

Why cannot Indian diaspora be flag bearers of an ‘investing’ network in Southeast Asia? Indian diaspora can invest in sectors which are viable in the region. From the data that have been collected while researching this paper, it is derived that Indians in Vietnam can invest in the latter’s automobile and medical industries. Similarly in Malaysia and Singapore, Indian restaurant business, silk textiles, IT industry, music and Indian educational institutes can be sectors for investing. Considering Thailand and Indonesia as locations for hosting Indian award shows, building Indian film-cities in these countries will attract more locals to Indian culture. Indian diaspora can view these sectors as an economic opportunity and invite other fellow Indians to join hands with them. Doing so will help Indians to leave a positive mark in the minds of Southeast Asians, leading to long-term trustworthy partnerships.

The Indian government has to give importance to possible opportunities that the Indian diaspora can create and thereby address their concerns. Various reports and studies say that, citizens of Southeast Asian countries who are of Indian origin will participate in India’s economic efforts only if they perceive that India will offer them favourable conditions for investing[xxxii].

In this context, Indians have to learn from the Chinese diaspora and their ties to the homeland. These Chinese diaspora have displayed loyalty towards their mother country. This has been possible due to their innate behaviour such as – being protective of their fellow nationals. This does not signify that the Indian diaspora are less patriotic or do not abide by principles of brotherhood. They in fact need assurance of mutual benefits all times.

Unofficial ambassadors

Overseas Indians who can ‘nudge’ a deal in foreign lands, can act as ambassadors for their home country. They are the ones who can watch out for future opportunities and report back to India on investment decisions. But the key to developing such citizens as ‘unofficial’ ambassadors is to have regular people-to-people contacts. This can be in form of community building, business opportunities or through various associations.

For example; as part of community building initiatives, overseas Indians in Singapore and Thailand have their own Facebook groups where they regularly share updates on Indian markets, Indian festivals, new Indian restaurants, helping fellow Indians in finding accommodation, and how any issues related to Indians abroad is to be addressed by India’s Ministry of External Affairs. These nuances make them feel part of ‘Team India’.

Indian states are also positioning themselves in Southeast Asia not just through embassies but through other outreach centres. The Indian Ambassador to Vietnam, Mr. Pravathaneni Harish (who hails from Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh) has been able to involve his home state in building strategic ties with Vietnam. Mr. Harish had convened a meeting with Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu (in 2016)[xxxiii]. The meeting had a positive outcome to introduce Kuchipudi classical dance form in Vietnam and run classes at Indian Centre in Hanoi. Such cultural bonding needs to take place in Southeast Asia at an enhanced pace. The image of Indian culture should reach through states to their respective diaspora living in ASEAN.

Philanthropic activities of the diaspora can also explore alternatives for more integration. For instance, Southeast Asian nations do not possess cutting-edge skills in IT sector. But the Indian diaspora working in IT sectors can assist the region with its skills base and pave ways for Indian IT companies to source workers. In early 2000’s this was tagged as ‘Brain drain’ but today Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi renames it to ‘Brain gain’. These Indian talents have become role models for the larger communities in Southeast Asia.


The paper opened up with three research questions which could compare diaspora engagement of India and China in Southeast Asian nations. The following table summarises the finding of the study.

Table 2: Research inferences1. What is the role of these diaspora in shaping economic scenarios in the home country (India and China) and host countries in Southeast Asia?Presently, China has an edge but India’s potential cannot be undermined.2. How are India and China leveraging the diaspora in Southeast Asia as a soft power tool?

China’s Confucius institutes have scored high in education of its own diaspora as well as the natives. In terms of religious influence, India effectively makes use of it in the region. Both India and China have good hold of the Music and entertainment sector.3. What is the way forward for India to engage effectively with its diaspora in Southeast Asia?Several positive outlooks.

Growing affinity between India and Southeast Asia is driven by India’s historical and cultural linkages, persistence to engage with the region since ‘Look East’, the developing economy of India and establishing economic partnership and diaspora ties. Drawing a parallel resemblance on the other side are ASEAN and China. ASEAN has re-framed the grouping’s policies towards Chinese diaspora who are the major players in economic and cultural activities. Removal of discriminatory laws and extensive regionalisation has eased the engagement of Chinese diaspora in the process of nation building. Hence, the ethnic Chinese present in ASEAN are enjoying influence in the region, which is in China’s favour.

On the other hand, ASEAN policies meant to protect for its citizens, pose a threat to the diaspora. These include slump in employment figures with ‘Bhumiputra’ policies. It may create turbulence in India-ASEAN ties. But India also requires a plan for the consequences emerging from such scenarios.

India’s emphasis on policy reformulation with respect to increasing the number of flights functioning between India and ASEAN (per week), building concrete welfare funding organisations to assist the diaspora, increasing the number of youth programmes through educational and scholarship perks for Indian students in Southeast Asia, creating 24-hour hotline services for Indian communities, commercialising Indian art and culture through new mobile applications, call to different stakeholders and the identification of all Indian states as markets for ASEAN economies etc. is very relevant. Thus this paper  concludes that future diaspora ties with India certainly look progressive with improved speed, space and skill.


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[ii] China focus . (accessed June 5th 2018).

[iii] Gang, Ding. “Chinese diaspora serves as link to ASEAN.” Global times, December 13, 2017: n.d.

[iv] Oak, Niranjan. Indian Diaspora in Southeast Asia and its Soft Power Dynamics. Article based on a speech , Delhi: East Asia Research Programme , 2017.

[v] Constant, Amelie F. & Klaus. “Diaspora economics: new perspectives.” International Journal of Manpower (Emerald Group Publishing Limited ), 2016: 45-48.

[vi] Chapman, Terri. ASEAN and India: five for the next five. Special Report – Article , New Delhi: Observer Research Foundation, 2018.

[vii] Thakur, Atul. “India retains long-held position of top remittance destinati .. .” The Times of India, april 25, 2018: n.d.

[viii] Remittance Flows Worldwide in 2016, Pew Research Center updated by 2018

[ix] Larin, Affairs Council, 2014. Alexander. The Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia: gains and losses. Analysis article, Russian International

[x] Suryanarayan (Retired Porfessor of Madras university), interview by Anusha Sooriyan. Diaspora in Southeast Asia (June 14, 2018).

[xi] Khanna, Shyamola. the Indian diaspora. August 5th, 2016. (accessed June n.d., 2018).

[xii] Lim, Linda. The BRI needs fewer Chinese characteristics. Analysis, n.d.: East Asia Forum website , 2018.

[xiii] Kinling Lo, Sidney Leng. South China Morning Post news website. February 24, 2017. (accessed June n.d, 2018).

[xiv] Touch, Darren. The Diplomat . February 02, 2018. (accessed June n.d, 2018).

[xv] Xue, Gong. Why some in South-east Asia still have reservations about China’s Belt and Road Initiative . March 20, 2018.

[xvi] Rogozhina, Natalia. “China’s Soft Power Policy in South-East Asia.” NEO (New Eastern Outlook) electronic journal , 2017.

[xvii] SOUTHEAST ASIA: true extent of China’s influence. May 11th, 2015.

[xviii] Palit, Parama Sinha Palit and Amitendu. “Strategic Influence of Soft Power:Inferences for India from Chinese Engagement of South and Southeast Asia.” ICRIER: Policy series, 2011: 20-24.

[xix] Micsellaneous. Quora. May 2015. (accessed June 2018).

[xx] n.d. Modi lauds Malaya-Indians, woos diaspora. News, Kuala Lampur:, 2015.

[xxi] Palit, Parama Sinha Palit and Amitendu. “Strategic Influence of Soft Power:Inferences for India from Chinese Engagement of South and Southeast Asia.” ICRIER: Policy series, 2011.

[xxii] Mankotia, Ajay. December 9, 2015. (accessed May 2018).

[xxiii] June 5, 2015. (accessed june 2018).

[xxiv] Aquino, Michael. November 24, 2017. (accessed 2018).

[xxv] Chaw, Keneth. April 14, 2018. (accessed May 2018).

[xxvi] Chinese opera: a relic in Southeast Asia. Bangkok, November 18, 2017.

[xxvii] Ibid

[xxviii] Aiyer, Pallavi. Buisness standard. December 20, 2014. (accessed June 2018).

[xxix] Suryanarayan (Retired Porfessor of Madras university) , interview by Anusha Sooriyan. Diaspora in Southeast Asia (June 14, 2018).

[xxx] Razali, Rodziana Mohamed. Addressing Statelessness in Malaysia. Research Paper, Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, 2017.

[xxxi] Thomas Abraham quote from Times of India, 2016.

[xxxii] Oak, Niranjan. Indian Diaspora in Southeast Asia and its Soft Power Dynamics. Article based on a speech , Delhi: East Asia Research Programme , 2017.

[xxxiii] Rao, G. Venkataramana. “Kuchipudi will soon be taught in Vietnam.” The Hindu, October 13, 2016.

(Anusha Sooriyan is a Research Intern, C3S. She is currently pursuing her final year PG in Politics and International Relations from Pondicherry University. Her UG was in Journalism from MOP Vaishnav college for Women, Chennai. She looks forward to pursuing higher studies in international relations. Email id: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.)

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