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Li Wei

Exploring the Development of New Think Tanks with Chinese Characteristics

Construction of high-quality think tanks with Chinese Characteristics

Since China’s revolutionary period and the earlier period of social construction, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has been attaching great importance to policy-making consultation and research work, though there were no professional team-based think tanks yet. Since the late 1970s, especially after the reform and opening-up policy, China has set up several policy research and consulting institutes, such as the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Development Research Center of the State Council (Development Center). According to the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, there are more than 200 active think tanks in China at present (college and university think tanks are not included). With official think tanks as the main part, the pattern of joint development of think tanks of the government, colleges and universities, corporations, and civil society has basically taken shape. Centering on the important strategies of the country and the Party as well as the hot and thorny issues in economic and social development, think tanks of all kinds have performed their duties conscientiously, producing a large number of influential research results of great significance to policy making, promoting scientific and democratic decision making, and contributing wisdom and strength to the reform and opening-up as well as socialist modernization. Some think tanks have become influential internationally.

At present, China is in a new period, when difficult problems in the process of expanding reform need to be addressed, and a transitional period between economic growth stages. In addition, profound changes have taken place in the world, in our country, and in the Party, leaving China with unprecedented opportunities and challenges. Since the decision-making of major reform programs and policies has as much correlation with social benefits and complexity as never before, the Central Committee of CPC and the State Council become increasingly demanding in scientific, democratic, and accurate decision-making, and making decisions according to law. It’s no exaggeration to say that the new era of great changes calls for more powerful think tanks that can take on more arduous tasks and shoulder more responsibilities. China’s think tanks emerged at the beginning of reform and opening-up; now, it is a good time for them to gain momentum. Yet, our think tanks are relatively backward regarding the needs of our times.

First of all, we have just started to explore the organizational forms and management patterns of new think tanks with Chinese characteristics. Although think tanks are an important part of national soft strength, they lack institutional guarantee and systems. Second, they have not imposed the impact they should have on the decision-making process, and their operation is short of institutionalization and standardization in a scientific and democratic policy-making system. Third, most think tanks in China are official or semi-official, so they can hardly figure out a balance between their institutional properties and the independency of policy research. Fourth, the channels through which they transform research results into decision-making consulting and social benefits are not smooth enough, and the transformation is inefficient. Last, think tanks in China generally lack abilities in strategic planning, comprehensive study and judgment, and policy research, which cannot meet the needs of decision-making in a new era.