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How does Asia soft power affect Estonia?

Soft power is a political strategy to influence other international relations actors by using a variety of political, economic and cultural instruments. The rise of Asia aligns with its growing economic, political and cultural influences worldwide, including in geographically distant Central Eastern and Nordic Europe. This report focuses on the multifaceted implications of, to a different degree, growing positions of China, India and Singapore for Estonia. 

The results show that immigration flows of newcomers from India and China to Estonia are on the rise. Many Chinese immigrants are attracted by educational opportunities, while Indian immigrants are primarily motivated by family reunification. The increasing trend of new immigration flows could be attributed to the strong ties among the well-established diasporas of Chinese and Indian immigrants, who hold relatively high and stable economic and social positions in Estonia. 

Also, although the number of Chinese and Indian-owned companies in Estonia is relatively small, these enterprises are profitable and operate in strategically significant sectors such as IT, technological infrastructure development, and telecommunications. Notably, companies such as Huawei, Tencent Estonia, and HCL Technologies are actively engaged in collaborations with esteemed scientific research centers and universities in the country, showcasing their commitment to innovation and knowledge exchange. 

Although China and India are rival powers competing for regional and global influence, for now, their soft power efforts in Estonia appear not to be on a collision course. This is mainly because their foreign policy strategies have different regional focus than Central Eastern and Nordic Europe. While China's presence is much stronger in the region, this state has little potential to win Estonian hearts and minds because of its authoritarian characteristics and sharp power practices. This allows India, which is still associated with democratic traditions, to launch effective soft power strategies vis-à-vis Estonia and the region.  

Nevertheless, the exchange of cultural values as essential part of China’s and India’s soft-power in Estonia is on the rise, with various spiritual and religious groups of Indian and Chinese origin gaining popularity. These groups often incorporate popular symbols into their practices, such as icons, images, idols, flags, and stones. Additionally, Chinese symbols, such as zodiac animals and feng shui, have also made their way into Estonian culture, reflecting China's global influence and the increasing multicultural nature of modern societies shaped by cross-cultural exchange and the blending of traditions. 

Finally, Singapore’s distance vis-a-vis liberal values, though incomparably smaller than in China’s case, has not significantly affected its soft power projection. The similarities between Estonia and Singapore as small states and digital tigers may bring their governments together and contribute to the people-to-people connectivity between their citizens. Moreover, this bond can be enforced by Singapore’s act to join the block of Western states against Russia’s aggression on Ukraine as opposed to neutral China and India.  

Authors: Anastasia Sinitsyna, Agnieszka Nitza-Makowska, Lelde Luik ja Kikee Doma Bhutia 

Read the full report from here

Funder: Research and Development Council 

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