The creativity of Chinese think tanks

By Shen Dingli
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, February 9, 2010
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The China Modernization Report 2010 from the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) and a 2009 report from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) on China's military standing have generated widespread interest and debate. The former said China had become a first-phase developed country. The latter ranked China as the world's number two military power. If that were really the case, Chinese people would have every right to be happy. But most people contrast the findings of the reports with their day-to-day experience; if China were really as strong as the reports say, would the U.S. be in a position to issue military threats and challenge China on sensitive issues?

The Chinese public should first of all express their thanks to both academies. From the reports, it is evident that the research teams gathered a huge volume of data and applied an original methodology to it, which is an innovation both in theory and practice. Even if the public doesn't agree with the reports' findings they should encourage the creativity involved in their production, which marks a major step forward in narrowing the gap between Chinese think tanks and those of the advanced countries.

As to how far the reports reflect reality, the public needs to feel sure that the data contained in the reports is valid, and the methods use to process it were appropriate. The report on Chinese military strength is the more problematic of the two as the country's military capabilities are closely-guarded state secrets, making quantitative research enormously difficult.

The government does not make routine or systematic announcements on military matters. Its Defense White Paper, merely announces numbers of military personnel, elaborates a little about military expenditure and sets out some defense policies. Some figures on military spending are also available in the annual report to the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, and additional information can be found in publications and on military websites.

But data concerning the exact armaments deployed by the military, where and in what numbers, as well as weapons performance and procurement plans are not available to the public. So the research team had to turn to foreign periodicals to obtain information. As much of the core data they used came from overseas, and a great deal can be classified as speculation, the report on China's military strength should at best be taken as a reference guide, and may, in many important respects, be far from the truth.

We may also question the researchers' methodology. For example, what constitutes military strength? Does the possession of missiles equal the ability to launch a successful attack? Obviously not since Iraqi SS-1 "Scud" missiles didn't give any trouble to the invading US troops.

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