Weak think tanks shackle nation’s governance upgrade

By Wang Wenwen Source:Global Times Published: 2015-1-23 0:33:01

According to new guidelines from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council, China is seeking to develop a new type of think tank with Chinese characteristics. It is planned to build 50 to 100 high-end think tanks by 2020.

The attention Chinese policymakers have been paying toward think tanks is not a recent phenomenon. Last October, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for Chinese think tanks that can help modernize the country's governance. This all indicates the importance China's top leadership attached to building high-quality think tanks in China.

In remodeling the country's think tanks, it is necessary to discern where they lag behind. Currently, there are 6,681 think tanks worldwide. China has the second largest number of think tanks in the world (429), behind only the US (1,830), according to data from a research team of the University of Pennsylvania which has conducted annual rankings of global think tanks since 2007.

Many operators believe that lack of independence is the major problem facing Chinese think tanks. This is why they fail to produce advanced ideas to guide the government's decision-making.

US think tanks tend to have contributed more in this regard. In 2008, the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics raised the notion of "G2" to describe the special relationship between the US and China. Although it caused enormous controversies at both public and government levels in the two countries, it did paint a future geopolitical landscape of this bilateral relationship at a time when regional and global dynamics are changing fast.

Meanwhile, while China has grown into the world's second-largest economy, few domestic economists have been able to offer convincing arguments explaining the logic between its political system and sustainable economic growth.

China is often portrayed as a giant in the hard-power leagues of the economy, technology and the military. But when it comes to the country's soft power, China watchers have little optimism. As some analysts have pointed out that soft power is all in the mind, think tanks are important as a deliverer of soft power as they convey ideas. 

Domestically, China has been pushing forward a raft of reforms and is in dire need of strategies and suggestions. Think tanks are expected to offer guidelines regarding concepts such as the rule of law and democracy, which are seen as a boost to China's national rejuvenation. Hopefully, the leadership's call to empower the country's think tanks will pave way for China to be a truly great world power.

Posted in: Observer

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