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Li Wei

Li Wei: To Build High-quality Think Tanks with Chinese Characteristics by Deepening Institutional Mechanism Reform

Speeding up efforts to build think tanks with Chinese characteristics is what the age calls for and what China urgently needs during the current stage of development. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, President Xi Jinping has made a series of important statements on the development and construction of China's think tanks. He pointed out that think tanks constitute an important part of the country's soft power, and he called for efforts to explore the way to build, organize and manage new think tanks with Chinese characteristics so as to build high quality think tanks. One decision of the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee is that efforts should be made to improve the construction of think tanks with Chinese characteristics and to establish a sound system for policy consulting services. The General Office of the CPC Central Committee and the General Office of the State Council gave a systematic explanation of a series of major theoretical and practical issues, like what kind of think tanks to be built, how to build them and why they should be established in the Opinions on Strengthening Efforts to Build Think Tanks with Chinese Characteristics (hereinafter referred to as the Opinions). The document is a guideline of think tank development in China and signals that China's think tanks have entered into a stage of rapid development in the country.

To fully and accurately understand important connotations of building new think tanks with Chinese characteristics

Building new think tanks with Chinese characteristics is a major move that the CPC Central Committee takes to promote modern national governance with a view to establishing a sound system of policy-making consulting services at a height of development in modern times. It is pointed out in the Opinions that new think tanks with Chinese characteristics offer important support to the Party and the government's scientific and democratic decision-making. They constitute efforts to modernize the government's ability in governance and the system of governance in the country and are also part of the country's soft power. In the Opinions, building think tanks with Chinese characteristics is a major and urgent task that matters to the overall development of the Party and the government. It also calls for strong and effective efforts to ensure the job is done well.

The country must fully understand the significance of building new think tanks with Chinese characteristics. Such think tanks are professional consulting agencies that mainly study public policies and offer consulting services for the Party and the government's scientific and democratic decision-making. They play important roles in many aspects like offering suggestions, promoting innovative thinking, guiding public opinion, offering social service and conducting public diplomacy. First, they propose suggestions about public policies in a professional, objective and independent way to help decision makers draw up and implement policies as well as prove and evaluate some policies. Second, they produce high-quality thought products that serve as the fountain of policies and theoretical innovation. Third, they help disseminate and popularize public policies, strengthen mainstream public opinions and consolidate the consensus on policies in society. Fourth, they listen extensively to opinions from people of all walks of life and then come up with their point of view in an objective and fair manner so as to serve as a platform for different groups of people to express their ideas about interests and demands. Fifth, they disseminate core socialist values and policies by means of public diplomacy and culture exchanges. They also improve China's influence and make its voice louder. China is at a crucial period of building a well-off society in an all-around way. As its economy enters into a new stage and profound changes are found in both domestic and international environment, it is essential that think tanks bring into full play their role in national governance.

The country must accurately grasp goals of building new think tanks with Chinese characteristics. In fact think tanks have seen rapid development since reform and opening-up in China. According to the goals proposed in the Opinions, China will establish a well-coordinated think tank system that has an appropriate size, clear positioning, distinctive features and a reasonable pattern by 2020. The think tank development pattern needs to be adjusted and improved. Policy research institutes affiliated to the Party and the government should enhance their ability to help in decision-making. Innovation should be encouraged at academies of social sciences as well as administration schools at Party schools. Efforts should be made to promote transformation of think tanks at universities and colleges. High-quality corporate think tanks as well as those that promote technological innovation should be built, and the development of social think tanks should be regulated and standardized. A plan on high-end State think tanks should be implemented, with the focus to build 50 to 100 such think tanks and to initiate pilot programs at the Development Research Center of the State Council (DRC) and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Reform of think tank management should be deepened, in addition to innovating the way in which think tanks provide consulting services in decision-making and improving an institutional guarantee about think tank construction so as to open up a new chapter of development of new think tanks with Chinese characteristics.

The country must follow the Party's leadership and take China's actual conditions into consideration. The prerequisite for building new think tanks with Chinese characteristics is to follow the Party’s leadership and socialism with Chinese characteristics. Designed to serve the Party and the government's scientific and democratic decision-making, think tanks need to explore a road of think tank development that suits China's political system and follows the pattern of think tank-related work.

China's think tanks are different from their Western counterparts in their road of development, goals and organization. There are nearly 2,000 policy research institutes, with 90 percent of them affiliated to Party committees and governments at different levels, academies of social sciences, Party schools, universities, armies, scientific and technological systems, and companies. They have accounted for a large part of China's decision-making consulting service system.

China's actual conditions must be taken into consideration when building new Chinese think tanks that are oriented to the modernization drive, the world and the future. In fully showing Chinese characteristics, styles and elements, new Chinese think tanks can learn from the Western think tank development model and borrow international experience, but they shouldn't imitate the Western think tanks exactly.

To promote the building of new think tanks with Chinese characteristics with a reformative and innovative spirit

Reform and innovation run through the Opinions. Think tanks in China face opportunities of great development and are confronted with severe challenges as well. Under such circumstances, reform and innovation are crucial to solving problems in the process of building new think tanks with Chinese characteristics. They will also help transform China from a country that excels in the number of think tanks to one that excels in their quality.

Improving think tank quality should be stressed. Their quality decides whether China's decision-making consulting system can play its role in national governance. China has a large number of think tanks, but quality ones are few, especially globally influential and renowned ones. The Opinions made it clear for the first time that new think tanks with Chinese characteristics should meet a series of standards and feature eight basic factors, ranging from the bodies themselves, research teams, research interests, capital sources, academic platforms, result commercialization, information support, governance structure, and international cooperation and exchanges. With those instructions in mind, we need to improve the abilities of think tanks. First, the ability in strategic planning as well as comprehensive research and judgment should be improved. This includes the ability to conduct forward-looking, purposeful and prepared policy studies centering on urgent, major issues essential to the Party and the government's decision-making; major tasks about reform, development and stability; as well as global issues. Second, the ability to continuously produce high-quality research results should be improved. That means think tanks should be able to set their research topics appropriately ahead of time and establish a strict system to ensure the quality of their findings. Third, the ability to go global should be improved. This includes the ability to actively participate in selecting and deciding global topics for discussion, as well as studying global issues and conducting international exchanges to spread China's ideas and suggestions in the international community.

Institutional reform should be further deepened. Most think tanks in China are affiliated to the Party or the government. That means efforts must be made to further deepen think tank institutional reform in accordance with their pattern of development to transform China's think tanks into modern, professional and high-end organizations. A series of reform measures are proposed in the Opinions regarding the way think tanks conduct organizational management, undertake studies, manage funds, appraise and commercialize results, and conduct international exchanges. The goal is to gradually eradicate the ubiquitous problems resulting from managing think tanks in a way tailored for general administrative and public units through reform in think tank personnel, scientific research, evaluation, expenditure and foreign affairs management systems. Great efforts should be made to alleviate and redress constraints on think tanks in terms of personnel recruitment, transfer and incentives; to provide adequate funds for research topics and redress the tendency to overemphasize materials and hardware yet slight the intellectual value; to make administrative management better suited to think tank work; and to mobilize professionals in different sectors and pool resources for what the Party and the government need most.

Efforts should also be made to improve the institutional guarantee system. Think tanks should be timely informed of decision-making demands, and research results should be timely provided to decision-makers. This will help think tanks play a more effective role in decision-making consulting and constitute an important part of building the think tank system. The Opinions also state that institutional arrangements have been made to ensure think tanks play a part in decision-making consulting. One measure is to improve the system for the government to make public its information in a timely manner and to diversify the channels for think tanks to obtain information from the government. Another is to improve the system for the government to solicit opinions on major issues, to make decision-making more transparent, to encourage public participation in this process and to establish a system that enables think tanks to receive feedback from decision-makers. The third measure is to establish a policy appraisal system so that major policies, projects and reform plans will be evaluated before, during and after their implementation by internal appraisers and think tanks as third-party evaluation. The fourth measure is to establish a system for the government to purchase consulting services, to diversify service providers and the ways service is provided, and to improve the system that strengthens the think tank services market and ensures different think tanks play equal roles in decision-making. The last measure is to improve the publicity mechanism to enhance think tank ability to spread their results and to encourage them to guide public opinion by means of popular media.

To actively get involved in building new think tanks with Chinese characteristics

The Development Research Center of the State Council (DRC) is a policy research institute directly under the State Council. Since its establishment in the early 1980s, the DRC has proposed many suggestions and solutions for Party and central government decision-making regarding such things as introducing economic reform, establishing the socialist market economy, initiating reform of State-owned companies and deepening reform in an all-around way. It has also made fruitful explorations in terms of building new think tanks with Chinese characteristics. The DRC will implement the Opinions to the word and develop into a high quality think tank in an active, innovative way.

President Xi Jinping's important statements will serve as the guidance of the DRC's implementation of the Opinions. In his statements about building new think tanks with Chinese characteristics, President Xi offered us a direction for developing decision-making consulting services in China and at the same time made clear his requirements about such think tanks. In accordance with Xi's requirements and the guiding principle, the overall goal and concrete measures laid down in the Opinions, the DRC will develop itself into a first-class think tank with global renown and influence. It will become a think tank that plays important roles in the Party and the central government's major decision-making processes by bringing into play its unique advantages like its globally strategic vision, following the pattern of consulting development, borrowing experience from both Chinese and international think tanks, clarifying its development goal, introducing institutional innovation, attracting top human resources and enhancing its capacity. Concrete efforts will be made in accordance with Xi's requirements to make explorations and innovations and pioneer the country's campaign to build new think tanks with Chinese characteristics.

The DRC will make concrete efforts to improve its ability to provide decision-making consulting services. First, it will enhance its ability in strategic planning, research and judgment about issues closely related to deepening reform and promoting rule of law. It will also spot major economic and social trends and make timely and objective judgments so as to propose professional and feasible solutions to issues that affect economic development and social safety.

Second, the DRC will establish a system to guarantee research that serves the Party and the central government’s decision-making. The system will ensure the DRC has an accurate grasp of decision-making demands, organize rapid studies, improve research results and render more effective suggestions in a timely manner.

Third, together with other think tanks, the DRC will conduct policy studies, appraise policies before and after their implementation, and interpret policies. It will also coordinate and mobilize various resources to play their roles in studies on decision-making consulting and improve the systematic application of research results.

Fourth, the DRC will strengthen theoretical studies on economic and social areasto consolidate the basis of policy consulting research. It will advocate seeking truth from facts and independent thinking. The DRC will make efforts to improve researcher professionalism and professional ethics following the principle of imposing no restrictions on research topics and releasing research results in accordance with requirements concerned.

The DRC will initiate the pilot program about building itself as a new think tank with Chinese characteristics. It will promote the work in accordance with requirements in the Opinions and make innovations in the way think tanks are organized and managed.

First, the DRC will develop a sound system for research management. Based on economic trends and demands of policy consulting research, the DRC will gradually develop a reasonable group of distinctive research fields with advantages, and establish a committee of first-class Chinese and foreign experts to choose topics appropriately ahead of time and in a scientific way. It will introduce a hierarchical and competitive system of research result appraisal, organize and manage topics in a flexible way, and establish a system in which research results are classified before submission for review to ensure their quality.

Second, the DRC will reform the system of personnel management and training. It will initiate a personnel campaign to culture a group of leading experts with global renown. The DRC will introduce a civil servant system for researchers; reform the system of personnel management, recruitment and professional title rating; and establish a system in which experts with outstanding contributions to the Party and the central government's decision-making ability will be appointed senior research fellows.

Third, the DRC will explore and implement a new fund management system. It will establish and improve a system that suits the work of think tanks and enhances the efficiency of fund use. It will be a system that is different from the one used to manage funds for disciplines in natural science.

Fourth, the DRC will become a platform of international exchanges that suits new global economic trends. Based on high-level studies, it will actively conduct international exchanges, introduce China's policies and practices, and develop a stronger voice at globally mainstream media outlets and international organizations.

Building new think tanks with Chinese characteristics is a long-term and arduous yet significant and glorious task. Those who work in the field of decision-making consulting and research should further enhance their sense of responsibility and urgency. They should share a uniform mind, pool their strengths, march forward to create a new pattern of think tank development, and open up a new chapter of reform and development.

The author is Li Wei, President of the Development Research Center of the State Council (DRC). The article appeared on page 2 of Guangming Daily on Jan 22, 2015.