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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: August 2, 2010 NO. 31 AUGUST 5, 2010
Brain Banks Among the Best

China's colossal number of think tanks on international relations are earning greater international recognition and exerting increasing influence on China's foreign policymaking. Leading think tanks, such as the China Institute of International Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, China Center for Contemporary World Studies and Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, have made significant progress in the past decades. Beijing Review reporter Li Li recently interviewed Professor Jin Canrong, Associate Dean of the School of International Studies, Renmin University of China, to find out the latest development trends of these organizations.

Beijing Review: Could you give us an overview of the development of international relations think tanks in China?

Jin Canrong: I divide them into the following types. The first type are policy-planning offices within government departments that mainly deal with the immediate demands of the department heads. The second type are research institutes affiliated to government ministries. The third type are research institutes of the academies of social sciences. For example the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has eight research institutes for international relations and the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences has three such institutes. The fourth type are the nearly 80 departments or schools of international studies in universities. China's three oldest schools of international studies are those in Peking University, Renmin University of China and Fudan University set up in the 1960s. In China, universities have the largest group of researchers of international relations. The fifth type are research institutes with the military, such as research institutes under the Academy of Military Science of the People's Liberation Army. The sixth type are researchers with Party schools, such as the Institute of International Strategic Studies of the Party School of the Communist Party of China Central Committee. The seventh type are research institutes of large media organizations, such as the Center for World Affairs at the Xinhua News Agency.

How do different types of think tanks form their areas of specialty?

The policy-planning offices within government departments mainly study current affairs and tactical issues. The other types of think tanks mainly study tactical and strategic issues, except schools of international relations in universities and research institutes with Party schools, which are also engaged in some theoretical studies.

The studies of different institutes also exhibit a clear geographical preference. For example, universities and the academy of social sciences in southwest China's Yunnan Province are particularly interested in the situations in Myanmar and India. Scholars in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have conducted a large number of studies on countries in Central Asia, such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Scholars in northwest China's Jilin Province are highly sensitive to what is happening on the Korean Peninsula.

How do think tanks affect China's foreign policies in general?

The policy-planning offices within government departments are policymakers themselves while the non-governmental institutes exert influence on China's foreign policies indirectly. Some researchers are invited to write reports for state leaders or give speeches at the government's closed-door discussions. They also express their opinions in their published books or articles in newspapers and journals. There are around 50 journals on international relations in China. Some researchers also freelance to newspapers and news websites or appear regularly on news talk shows.

Can you give us a concrete example?

In the early 1990s, a group of Chinese scholars, including Professor Yan Xuetong from Tsinghua University, suggested the Chinese Government be more active in multilateral diplomacy. Back then, China didn't trust multilateral mechanisms. This idea was accepted by the government and later evolved into China's "new security concept," which China has vigorously advocated after the Asian Financial Crisis. The practices of the "new security concept" include China's active participation in East Asian cooperation, a major policy shift for China, the frameworks of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, six-party talks and the tripartite summit with Japan and South Korea.

What are the similarity and differences between Chinese think tanks and their foreign counterparts?

Their basic functions are the same: providing expertise and sharing the decision-maker's political responsibilities.

One major difference is that Chinese think tanks are mainly supported by government funds while a larger proportion of expenditures for foreign think tanks come from non-governmental funding sources.

Globally, what is the academic level of Chinese think tanks?

Generally, China has the best international relations think tanks among developing countries and is one of the second-tier countries worldwide with Russia, Japan and EU countries while the United States represents the highest level in the world.

The United States has thousands of think tanks and all of their government departments have their own internal consultation organs. The U.S. think tanks rank highest in quantity and quality, ensuring the U.S. Government makes sound strategic decisions.

There is an obvious gap between the studies by Chinese think tanks and those by their American counterparts, which have more personnel and expenditure. All of the studies by U.S. think tanks are on specific topics, using positivist approaches, tight arguments and sufficient data. Their conclusions are usually predictions on the world a long time from now, such as The World in 2020, a report by the National Defense Panel in 1997.

How well do Chinese think tanks cooperate internationally?

Chinese researchers are cooperating very closely with their foreign colleagues and the opportunity for growth is enormous. There are two reasons. One reason is the outside world's interest in China has been rising with the country's rapid development and foreign institutes need China-based partners for their studies on China. The other reason is that the capabilities and quantity of Chinese scholars studying international relations have made significant progress in the last 20 years.


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