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Explore the Path of Developing New-type Think Tanks with Chinese Characteristics

By Li Wei 2015-07-23

By Li Wei, DRC President

In the Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms adopted at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, it is pointed that efforts are to be made to enhance the construction of new-type think tanks with Chinese characteristics and promote the building and improvement of a consultative policy system. In recent years, President Xi Jinping has twice given important instructions on the construction of think tanks and stressed that great importance should be attached to think tanks as an important component part of China's soft power, and major efforts should be made to explore the organizational forms and management styles in terms of developing new-type think tanks with Chinese characteristics. His instructions, on the one hand, indicate that building think tanks is an important tool to advance the modernization of the national governance system and governance capability, and, on the other hand, make clear the fundamental orientation and general requirements for building new types of think tanks with Chinese characteristics.

I. Think Tanks Are an Important Component Part of Modern State Governance System

Think tanks, also known as "brain trust", generally refer to professional institutions on public policies, whose main function is to provide high-quality options for policy-makers to solve economic, political and social problems as well as issues related to foreign affairs. Think tanks, in the modern sense, came into being in Western countries in the 19th century, as a result of the specific division of labor as well as scientific and democratic decision-making. Since the mid-20th century, the world's political power and economic order have undergone dramatic changes along with the scientific and technological development. Due to the ever-increasingly complex situation and circumstances facing each country, the advices given by individual counselors could hardly meet the needs of policy-makers to deal with various challenges emerged in human history. As a result, team-based think tanks were urgently needed to provide higher-quality and professional options and consulting advices for policy-makers to make relevant decisions. Such circumstances had enabled all sorts of think tanks to develop rapidly and with improved counseling services they forged close relationships with policy-makers and enjoyed more and more influence. Gradually, they have become an important component part of the state governance system and played a more and more important role in social management. According to statistics of relevant institutions, the number of outstanding think tanks across the globe amounted to 6,826 in 2013. In the United States, before the Second World War there were only 20 odd think tanks including the Brookings Institution and the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace whereas its number of think tanks had increased to 1828 by 2013, forming a relatively complete policy counseling system matching its social governance framework. Think tanks, in the modern sense, are mainly engaged in raising professional, objective and independent proposals on public policies, helping policy-makers formulate and implement relevant policies, and making evaluation on related policies through demonstrations. Due to the different social governance system, cultural tradition and development stage, think tanks in the Western developed countries are mainly social organizations independent from the government system; while in East Asian areas, governments of major economies actively built a large number of think tanks in the late 20th century, bearing the special feature of "government-run" think tanks. Both kinds of think tanks have played an important part for the development and governance of various countries in the present world. When formulating political guidelines, acts and bills, the governments or parties of Western countries often hold in-depth discussions and make repeated demonstrations with relevant think tanks, and sometimes would adopt their proposals directly. During President Reagan's term of office, the Atlantic Council completed China Policy in the Next Decade, whose main points became the major basis for the American government to deal with China. Rand Corporation has built its status in US decision making and won worldwide fame, thanks to its successful prediction and strategic research on such major international events as the launching time of Russian's first satellite, the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam, the establishment of Sino-US diplomatic relations, the Cuban missile crisis, German Reunification and etc. It can be said that think tanks could be found behind every major strategic measure taken by the American government after the Second World War. Besides, the speeches or debates on public policies at legislatures by MPs in Western countries are actually a battle among different think tanks. "Comprehensive Safeguard Strategy" put forward by Nomura Research Institute (NRI) guided Japan to tide over the second oil crisis. About 10 official think tanks represented by Korea Development Institute (KDI) contributed their wisdom and helped the government realize the programs for industrialization and modernization. Therefore, it's not difficult to see that the quality of think tanks has become an important benchmark of modern state governance capability.

Generally speaking, the role of modern think tanks is mainly embodied in four aspects. First, they can assist the government in managing state affairs. Think thanks act as brain trust and counselors to provide policy-makers with relevant options and proposals, make demonstration and evaluation on related action plans and implementation effects, and give necessary interpretation and guidance to the society. Second, they can inspire people's intelligence. Through in-depth research and solicited opinions from various circles of society, experts and scholars from think tanks write articles, publish works and make comments and hold discussions to disseminate and popularize the policies to the public. Third, they can help solve discrepancies. In the face of diversified interest groups and appeals, think tanks can put forward political views from an objective and fair standpoint and provide a platform for different interest groups to exchange their appeals. Fourth, they can pool talents and recommend the able. Western think tanks play a full role of "a revolving door" for talents. In other words, the government would select senior officials from researchers in thinks tanks. and quite a number of senior officials would, after leaving their posts or after their retirement, get engaged in policy research work in relevant think tanks, giving play to their professional knowledge and influence. The role shift of officials could further strengthen the ties between the government and think tanks and facilitate the latter's influence on government policies.

II. Building High-quality New-type Think Tanks with Chinese Characteristics Is a Request of Our Times

During the revolutionary period and the early stage of construction, the CPC had attached great importance to the work of policy consultation, investigation and research, but team-based think tanks with professional personnel had not been established. In the late 1970s and especially after the launch of the reform and opening-up drive, China established institutions on policy counseling and research such as the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and the Development Research Center of the State Council (DRC). According to the statistics of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, there are over 200 relatively active think tanks in China (not including college and university think tanks) and a common development pattern has taken initial shape, with official think tanks working as the mainstay and supplemented by university, enterprise and non-government think tanks. Centering on major strategic arrangement of the CPC and the government as well as the hot and difficult issues in China's economic and social development, all types of think tanks have earnestly fulfilled their duties and produced a number of valuable research findings for policy making, The impact resulting from the implementation of relevant research results have pushed forward scientific and democratic decision making, and made contributions to China's reform and opening-up and socialist modernization. It should be pointed out that some think tanks have, due to their good work, become quite well-known in the world.

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