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Home>>China >> China Society
16:00, August 04, 2009

China's think tanks: rising with embarrassment

Global Think Tank Summit in Beijing

Barely four months old, China’s youngest non-governmental think tank made its international debut early this July by gathering world’s top think tanks in Beijing to work on solutions for global financial crisis.

The organizer, China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE) did something that other think tanks have never done. Former Italian president Romano Prodi called the summit “Creative, with wisdom and imagination” which not only helped CCIEE earn global fame, but also let the world recognize think tanks in China for the fist time.

China kicks off Global Think Tank Summit in Beijing

A think tank is an organization, institute, corporation, or group that conducts research and engages in advocacy in areas such as social policy, political strategy, economy, science or technology issues, industrial or business policies, and military advice. It plays an increasingly important role in government decision-making and promoting social development.

US is generally acknowledged to be the leading power in regard to think tanks which not only influence the policymaking and trends of social thought in US, but also spread its ideology to the world and influence other country’s public opinion and even policy.

Overview of US think tanks

The invisible think tanks in China: 2000 or 74?

According to the most recent research and statistics, there are already over 2000 think tanks within China, while the number in the US is 1777.

However, according to a report released by US this year, “there are only 74 think tanks in China’s mainland”, while India, with 121, has more think tanks than any other country in Asia.

China has never been so embarrassed by a large number of invisible think tanks. As the world’s third-biggest economy, China enjoys a favorable trade surplus. But in terms of thought, China suffers huge deficit.(more)

China's think tanks suffer embarrassment

Absurd predictions

A famous scholar from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) predicted in 2007 that "China's inflation rate will not exceed four percent" and "China's economy will not experience a sharp rise or decline." However, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose to a new monthly high of 8.7 percent two months later, plummeted in the second half of 2008 and continued to drop in 2009. This has severely ruined the credibility of the CASS, one of China's top think tanks.

In 2008 when crude oil prices reached a record high of 147 USD a barrel, a number of China's think tanks predicted that crude oil prices would soon exceed 200 USD a barrel, not anticipating that prices would fall to 35 USD a barrel at the end of 2008.

Indeed, in such a constantly changing world, it is harsh to require think tanks to make all their predictions accurate or all their policy proposals constructive. However, frequent failures are devastating for think tanks which live on offering ideas and suggestions.

Over 95 percent of China's think tanks are government-funded with limited independence

Ineffective predictions may be partly due to the fact that most of China's think tanks, except some government-backed ones, are unable to access key information and data. However, as those state-funded think tanks are limited by department interests their research results tend to be less independent and objective.

In China, 95 percent of 2,000-plus think tanks are either financed or appointed by the state. "There are a number of think tanks in China, but the majority are research institutions controlled by government. In contrast, most think tanks abroad are independently-operated commercial organizations," said Wang Tongxun, vice chairman of the Chinese Talent Society.

Lack of funding

Another factor curbing the development of China's think tanks is funding. The China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE), a top-level think tank in China, acknowledged that "its biggest problem is raising funds." At present, even the CCIEE mainly relies on the prestige of Zeng Peiyan, CCIEE head and former vice premier of the State Council, to look for corporate sponsorship, not to mention other think tanks.

With regard to the creation of think tanks that possess international influence, and increasing China’s influence and soft power, Chinese think tanks still need a "vitamin supplement". Professor Deng Guo-sheng from Qinghua University, who engages in NGO research, says that society needs a highly-effective, diversified think tank system, and that private think tanks should receive support and guidance. He believes that the government must provide support to the establishment of think tanks in the areas of capital, policy formation and law - in particular, it should provide private think tanks with a relaxed environment for development. This would include relaxation of restrictions on registration, and the establishment of non-profit public benefit funds.

By People's Daily Online

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