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Chinese think tanks reflect quantity, not quality

2014-01-23 08:59 China Daily Web Editor: Wang Fan

China has the second-largest number of think tanks in the world only after the United States, but experts said the lack of top-notch Chinese institutions and global influence reflects the need to improve intellectual support of the country's policy-making process.

The report 2013 Global Go To Think Tanks Index, released on Wednesday, said that China had 426 think tanks as of August, accounting for about 6 percent of the world's total, second only to the US, which has 1,828.

But only six of the Chinese think tanks are among the top 100 think tanks worldwide. The rankings are determined by the think tanks' academic successes and global influence, according to the report, compiled by the Think Tank and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, the top-rated Chinese think tank, was only 20th on the list, while the Washington-based Brookings Institution topped it. The top 10 positions were all US and European institutions.

In a breakdown of the list, which ranks the think tanks according to their specialized research fields, the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations was eighth in foreign policy and international affairs. But the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the CASS was only 27th in international economic policy research — a stark contrast to China's status as the world's second-largest economic power.

"China's think tanks are still at a growth stage, and there isn't a sound mechanism for their participation in the making of public policy," said Quan Heng, a researcher with the Think-tank Research Center at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

He said that about 40 percent of the active think tanks in China have strong backing either from the government or the military, which to some extent harms the think tanks' independence and representation of public interests.

In the meantime, Quan said, while private think tanks have sprung up like mushrooms over the past decade — an additional 36 active ones were founded from 2003 to 2012 — private think tanks were troubled by issues such as fundraising and information-sharing.

"The influence of think tanks is in line with a nation's soft power, and innovation-driven growth also depends much on the think tank, … but the environment did not favor building global influence and innovation of think tanks," Quan said.

In April 2013, President Xi Jinping highlighted the importance of building modern think tanks, bringing it to the same level as national strategy. In addition, Premier Li Keqiang has urged the government to let the market play its role and purchase more professional services from social institutions.

China has seen the emergence of several globally influential think tanks in the past few years, such as the China Center for International Economics Exchanges in 2009. The country is also deepening ties with world-class think tanks, such as with the establishment of Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy in 2006.

"This is the best opportunity for the development of think tanks in China," said Yang Jiemian, president of the scholarship committee at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

"Who would have foreseen the boom of Chinese companies on the Fortune Global 500 list, when only 30 years ago, there were no Chinese names on the list? I'm sure that someday, we'll see global-leading Chinese think tanks," Yang said.

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