How can think tanks boost China’s development?

The Shanghai Financial Association recently established two think tanks, a financial and shipping committee and an expert committee, based on nearly an entire year of preparation. The founding of the two think tanks is expected to enhance Shanghai’s international influence as a financial hub.

A think tank is an organization consisting of a group of experts who provide advice and ideas on various issues, especially in political, social and economic fields.

Faced with a complex domestic and international situation, China has made great efforts to boost the development of its think tanks. In 2010, China had the second largest number of think tanks, according to a U.N. global think tank ranking report.

Global changes bring opportunities to Chinese think tanks

“Given the complex and varied economic situation, it would be impractical to expect a few top leaders to always make right decisions. Therefore, we need to seek advice from experts in order to make the decision-making process more scientific and democratic,” Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said on the eve of the founding of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges in 2008, indicating the great development opportunity for Chinese think tanks.

With China’s comprehensive national strength always increasing, China-related issues have become heated in the entire world, thereby contributing to the birth of a number of specialized think tanks. Some top international think tanks take China as their priority study subject. James Thomson, president of the Rand Corporation, a leading U.S. think tank, said Rand has recruited many China experts to conduct research on a wide range of topics, including the Tianjin Binhai New Area’s technological development and the Sino-India educational system comparison.

“Compared to their counterparts abroad, China’s think tanks have a better analysis of Chinese society thanks to their understanding about China’s traditional culture as well as today’s grassroots situation. We will seize this historical opportunity, absorb outstanding talent at home and abroad and make full use of domestic resources as well as our own advantages so as to better serve China’s economic and social development,” said Song Yingchang, head of the Urban and Regional Administration Research Office of Urban and Environment Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Chinese wisdom gives advice to the government

“The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has played significant roles in not only offering suggestions to the 12th Five-Year Plan, but also in other government affairs, particularly in a number of issues related to public livelihood,” Song said when talking about the roles of academy think tanks.

According to the “Think Tank Index” released by the Foreign Policy magazine, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences took the championship among all Asian think tanks and won the title of “Asia’s best think tank.” However, the Chinese governmental think tanks’ independence and objectivity as well as their familiarity of grassroots situation have always been questioned.

“Some have a misunderstanding of our work. In fact, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has always stuck to the principle of ‘a hundred schools contend’ in an attempt to avoid speaking out of only one voice. We have conducted research and developed discussions on some major public and international topics,” said Song.

When asked how to conduct research to reveal the grassroots situation and allow the public’s voice to be heard, he said we are attaching growing importance to on-site grassroots research, such as surveys and field investigations, in order to obtain first-hand information. Then we analyze the information by scientific methods to ensure righteousness and fairness. We can say that local and grassroots research is of critical importance.”

Civilian perspective makes Chinese think tanks unique

Based on the grassroots, Chinese nongovernmental think tanks can accept opinions and thoughts from the public and thus can take a full advantage of ordinary people’s wisdom. The civilian perspective Chinese tanks take is unique and valuable.

The Center for China and Globalization boasts nearly a hundred overseas returnees who are influential in China’s industrial, commercial, economic and academic sectors. The center’s founder Wang Yaohui is one of the first college students after the resumption of College Entrance Examination, and one of the earliest MBA students studying abroad. Inspired by Western think tanks, Wang spent 10 years studying the construction of China’s nongovernmental think tanks.

The Center for China and Globalization has not only built channels directly connected to decision-making agencies, but also undertaken multiple research projects from the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

The 21st Century Education Research Institute is committed to build a nongovernmental education think tank with the highest credibility in China. The institute has published editions of the Blue Book of China’s Education over the past decade. An English version of the book, published by Holland’s BRILL in 2008, became an important reference for overseas research on Chinese education. Many sections in the book are written by “nobodies,” including young scholars, media reporters and even university volunteers.

Yang Dongping, dean of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said “the biggest feature, distinguishing us from other similar publications, is that we, as a third party, have a civilian standpoint and an independent perspective.”

Yang said the survey data are from professional survey companies, academic research teams and independent education network, and are representative and authoritative.

By People’s Daily Overseas Edition reporters Wu Yang, Li Jian and Zhao Xiaoni, translated by People’s Daily Online

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