Religions and China’s Diplomatic Endeavours (1949-2019)

Dr Yu Tao1

1The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

This paper seeks to explore how the Chinese government utilises religions to advance its diplomacy from three aspects. It starts with a general overview of the dynamics regarding how various religious groups and activities are mobilised to support the enhancement of the political, social, and economic ties between China and foreign countries. It then compares the ways and means through which China utilise different religions in promoting its diplomatic relations with other countries. The results of relevant comparative case studies, as well as the reading into secondary literature published in leading Chinese journals, suggests that the Chinese state skilfully motivates different religions to serve its different foreign policy purposes. For example, while Buddhist and Daoist forums are primarily set to enhance China’s link with countries in East and Southeast Asia, Islam is often used to strengthen China’s ties with countries with a significant presence of the Muslim population, such as Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Arabic countries in the Middle East. Finally, this paper looks further into how the Chinese state utilises religions in advancing its recent flagship global project – the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Through systematic analysis into the primary and second sources on how religious groups and practitioners participate in China’s Track 1.5 and Track 2 diplomacy, this paper intends to provide an up-to-date overview on how religions are involved in China’s diplomatic endeavours as the BRI unfolds.


Dr Yu Tao teaches contemporary China at the University of Western Australia (UWA), where he also coordinates the Chinese Studies degree program. Prior to UWA, he worked as a senior lecturer in Asia Pacific Studies at the University of Central Lancashire in England. Trained as a political sociologist in Beijing, Cambridge and Oxford, he primarily focuses on the interaction among religious groups, civic organisations and local state agencies in contemporary China and overseas Chinese communities.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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