China’s cultural diplomacy in Malaysia during Najib Razak’s premiership


  • Jakub Hrubý Czech Academy of Sciences
  • Tomáš Petrů Czech Academy of Sciences



China-Malaysia Relations, Confucius Institute, Cultural Diplomacy, Soft Power, Tertiary Education, Zheng He


This article aims to provide an analysis of China’s cultural diplomacy (CCD) in Malaysia in the latter years of the premiership of Najib Razak (2015-2018). It intends to reflect on the efforts China has been exerting in order to increase its soft power in the Southeast Asian nation. The authors have identified and analyzed four major fields of CCD: the activities of two Confucius Institutes; the first overseas campus of a renowned Chinese university; invocations of shared history, embodied mainly by the figure of the legendary admiral-eunuch Zheng He, regularly commemorated as China’s historic envoy of peace; and Malay translations of classical Chinese novels. The article’s findings reveal an intricate pattern of networks involving various actors, both Chinese and Malaysian, state, semi-state, and non-state, pursuing their own particular interests, which tend to converge and overlap with the aims of Chinese cultural diplomacy. The implementation of CCD has also been formed by the local political and societal structures: a) a ‘special’ relation between Razak’s cabinet and the PRC leadership, revolving around party-based diplomacy and intensive economic cooperation especially between 2015 and May 2018; b) the presence of a large Chinese community, which provides opportunities and, at the same time, creates limitations for the China´s cultural diplomacy practice in Malaysia.

Author Biographies

Jakub Hrubý, Czech Academy of Sciences

Jakub Hrubý is research fellow at the Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences. In addition to his long-term focus on the political, social, and institutional history of medieval China, Hrubý is also interested in China-Southeast Asia relations. As of late, he has been researching misrepresenting historical narratives in the framework of China’s cultural diplomacy. 

Tomáš Petrů, Czech Academy of Sciences

Tomáš Petrů is research fellow at the Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences. He is also assistant professor of Indonesian Studies at Charles University in Prague. He co-authored the first full-fledged monograph on the history of Indonesia in the Czech language, Dějiny Indonésie (NLN, 2005) and authored two dozen articles and chapters on Indonesian, Malaysian, and wider Southeast Asian history and politics. In his research, Petrů has been focusing on the interaction of politics, ethnicity, and religion in Indonesia and the Malay world. 


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