Monday, September 10, 2012

Buddhism As Soft Power

India has been getting jittery about China of late, and with good reason. Incursions by Chinese soldiers into Indian  territory in the Sikkim/Bhutan border area have risen by a whopping 600% over the last decade. The Indian Ocean, traditionally India’s  backyard, is seeing a lot of Chinese activity too. They have navel facilities in or are building ports in Sittwe in Burma, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, in the Maldives and at Gwadar in Pakistan. On top of that they have a listening post on the northern-most Andaman island which is owned by Burma and is only 20 miles from Indian territory. In the soft power area China is using Buddhism to promote itself. Memories of the decades-long government persecution of Buddhism are fading and impressively dresses monks, colourful ceremonies and relic tours of Buddhist countries attract much media attention. They recently sponsored a huge international Buddhist conference at which they displayed their approved Panchen Lama and apparently he will be going on tour some time next year. One cannot help noticing that of the numerous rimpoches and big lamas who have been visiting Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, etc of late, most are from the more Sinicized Tibetan regions (Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, etc). Lamas from Tibet proper apparently  have difficulties getting permission to leave the country.
India has began  to rope Buddhism into its own  soft power initiatives to counter or at least keep up with China’s efforts. In early in 2012 the Indian Council for Cultural Relations sponsored the Cinimaya Festival which highlighted Buddhism in  Asian cinema. Later in the year there was the  International Conference on Archaeology of Buddhism in Asia. Then there was the first Global Buddhist Congregation to which 900 participants were invited. There were the usual Chinese complaints  about the presence of the Dalai Lama  at this event  and  India’s president failed to address the inaugural meeting, almost certainly  because of Chinese pressure.  During the Congregation it was decided to set up an International Buddhist Confederation to be headquartered in India. “The whole Buddhist world is looking at India for leadership. For a long time, we have neglected this role. India enjoys a lot affection and respect in the Buddhist countries. We must join them in providing solutions to problems of violence, conflict and environment,” said Lama Lobsang, the Congregation’s main organizer, long-time member of Congress and former Commissioner for Minorities in the Indian government.  As I write this the Kapilavatthu relics, housed in the National Museum in New Delhi, are on tour through Sri Lanka and are attracting crowds of hundreds of thousands.
Various governments in ancient times used Buddhism for diplomatic purposes. China’s Tooth Relic tour of Ceylon and Burma in the 1950s and the USSR’s Buddhists For World Peace in the 60s and 70s were modern examples of the same thing. It seems the strategy is continuing. 
Here is a bit more on the subject  


Paulo Roberto said...

That's something that worries me. This use of buddhism reinforces traditional approaches, more concerned with rituals and hierarchies than with the Dhamma.

j d said...

Yes everyone is getting very jittery!