Beijing engages in public diplomacy—a collection of instruments used to influence the perceptions, preferences, and actions of citizens and leaders in another country—as a means to win over foreign publics and advance its national interests. Over the past two decades, Chinese leaders have sought to manage negative reactions to China’s growing military and economic strength, as well as to win friends and allies to realize Beijing’s global ambitions. While its aspirations may be global, Beijing takes a special interest in cultivating closer relations within China’s greater periphery, including the countries of South and Central Asia (SCA).
To understand Beijing's reach and influence across this strategic region, AidData, in collaboration with the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) and the China Power Project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), collected an unprecedented amount of qualitative and quantitative data on Beijing’s public diplomacy in 13 SCA countries from 2000 through 2018. In Silk Road Diplomacy, the authors analyze this data to illuminate which tools Beijing is deploying, with whom, and to what effects for recipient countries and strategic competitors.
In partnership with AidData, CSIS, and ASPI, the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi co-hosted a conference to launch the report on December 10th, 2019. Four panel discussions and a lunch keynote, all featuring experts from around the world, dove deeper into the reach and influence of Chinese public diplomacy and the policy implications for countries across South and Central Asia.
This study was conducted with generous support from the United States Department of State and in partnership with the Asia Society Policy Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The report's findings and conclusions are those of its authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of funder and partner organizations.
How was the data collected?
Data on Chinese financial, cultural, exchange, and elite-to-elite diplomacy activities was collected for this report from a range of quantitative and qualitative sources:
- Projects qualifying as financial diplomacy were drawn from AidData's Global Chinese Official Finance Dataset, 2000-2014, Version 1.0, with AidData's TUFF (Tracking Underreported Financial Flows) methodology applied to extend coverage through 2017. To assemble this data, AidData researchers collected information on grants, concessional loans, non-concessional loans from Chinese government agencies, policy banks, state-owned commercial banks, and investment funds.
- Information on Confucius Institutes and Classrooms, sister cities, cultural centers and events, official visits, military activities, student exchange, and scholarships was sourced variously from: the China Foreign Affairs Yearbooks; Chinese Embassy websites; the China International Friendship City Association; Confucius Institute Annual Development Reports; Hanban Annual Reports; the Hanban website; data provided by Allen et al. (2017); and supplemental targeted Internet searches.
- In addition to quantitative data, on-the-ground insights were captured from semi-structured interviews with 216 individuals from 145 organizations and agencies across six SCA case study countries: Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, the Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan. These individuals comprised government officials, private sector leaders, civil society representatives, journalists, academics, foreign diplomats, and the representatives of international organizations.