A study by AidData research lab at the College of William & Mary in Virginia has stated that China has spent billions of dollars to project soft power in Asia but has struggled to win the confidence of the citizens of the region. Asia Society Policy Institute and the China Power Project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies took up the research. It cites that Chinese President Xi Jinping doubled China's foreign affairs budget in six years from 30 billion to 60 billion yuan ($8.5 billion) to bolster its global diplomacy. Public diplomacy is a critical ingredient in Beijing's toolkit to neutralise potential threats, overcome internal disadvantages, and outmaneuver regional competitors, the report said. The said "toolkit" includes huge infrastructure investments, state-backed media operations, twin cities, military diplomacy, and Confucius Institutes, which teach students about Chinese language and culture.
About 95 per cent of China's financial diplomacy goes to infrastructure and only five per cent go to other areas such as humanitarian assistance or debt relief, read the report. Moreover, Pakistan and Kazakhstan captured half of Beijing's investment in the region. Both are the key countries in Xi's trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure program. Cultural events, scholarships, and student exchanges were also revamped by the country. Almost every country in South and Central Asia now has at least one form of Chinese state-owned media, including television, radio and print media, read the report. A total of 61 exchange trips for South and Central Asian journalists were organised by China between 2004 and 2017. With this, Beijing aims to both expand China's broadcasting operations and cultivate relationships with journalists, promote pro-China coverage and suppress negative criticism. Yet none of the steps seemed to be directing towards alignment with Beijing at the United Nations, according to the report.
Most of the South East Asians support China superficially based on potential economic prospects. No one has a deeper appreciation for Chinese culture and language. Even in Kazakhstan, the elites have strong Sinophobia, the report said. It also claims that the political leaders have born Uighur organisations in Kazakhstan despite having signed agreements with Beijing to help it contain separatist movements. Xinjiang's re-education camps are reportedly holding one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities, including ethnic Kazakhs. About 75 per cent of the Uighurs live in Kazakhstan and local activists have constantly revolted to the atrocities. The report suggested that if China hopes to maintain stability, it will likely need to not only convince political elites but the Kazakh public, who may be predisposed to support the interests of their Uighur in Xinjiang.