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Living up to its name
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Just as how a person in a higher position is not naturally smarter than his or her subordinates, a think tank affiliated to a higher level of government is not necessarily wiser than lower-ranked agencies.

The worth of a think tank derives from the quality of its work, not the authority it is associated with.

That is why we dislike the Chinese media's labeling of the new China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE) as "the highest-ranking think tank in China".

Reportedly set up under the auspices of Premier Wen Jiabao, headed by a retired vice-premier, composed of top policy advisors and officials steering the country's economy, and assigned to study some of the most challenging economic issues facing us, the CCIEE is special in many ways.

With most of its board members still active at the forefront making and executing national economic policies, its access to information is incomparable. The "luxurious" line-up of its members alone has inspired high expectations.

The 71-year-old CCIEE director, Zeng Peiyan, for example, had been charged with macro economic decision-making for more than a decade at the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) before becoming a vice-premier in 2003.

Blessed with convenient access to national leaders' concerns and the realities on the national economic front, as well as the experiences of success and failure of past policies, the CCIEE is in a privileged position to provide informed proposals.

Whether or not it can live up to the high expectations, including those of Premier Wen's, however, rests ultimately on the CCIEE's capacities for original research and independent thinking.

Officially, the CCIEE is defined as "semi-official". Which means it has at least one foot inside the system. In a sense, it is the former NDRC Center for International Cooperation and the corresponding consulting service put together.

There is a price for being a system insider. You cannot disregard the likes and dislikes of those who grant you privileges and even pay for your daily bread. That is why some "think tanks" do more echoing than thinking.

We have plenty of brains that live by expounding and justifying official lines. The CCIEE has to be different.

For the think tank to be worth its salt, it must stand above departmental interests and commit fully to those of the country.

Given the strategic importance of the issues entrusted to it, we cannot afford otherwise.

(China Daily April 13, 2009)

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