Chinese think tanks should avoid any great leap forward

By Han Fangming
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, February 27, 2015
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Think tanks have been incredibly popular in China, which in turn gives rise to think tank study and a ranking system.

However, this is a sector far from being rational and well regulated, as some commercial organizations also leap in pretending to be scholastic institutes. This frenetic development lacks certain criteria to rule out the unqualified and this needs to be sorted out before the intellectual industry becomes a total mess.

What should a think tank be?

A think tank should be a relatively independent policy research or consultative institute providing original and creative ideas to meet the needs of the country, government and society, and certainly not driven by a profit motive.

Not all research institutes in specific fields can be called think tanks. Generally speaking, think tanks here and abroad refer mostly to those whose research focuses on State strategies, diplomatic policies and international relations.

According to the Opinions on Intensifying the Building of New Type Think Tanks with Chinese Characteristics issued by the central authorities at the end of January, these should be "nonprofit research institutions and consultancies working mainly on strategic issues and public policies to aid the decisions to be made scientifically, democratically and in conformity with laws by the CPC and the government."

Therefore, those institutes which call themselves think tanks but focus on making profits should be considered unqualified.

Relations between think tanks and government

Independence is indispensable to the credibility, impartiality and commonality of a think tank. Without this, the organization is more likely to become a mouthpiece of interest groups.

But this independent stance should not insulate think tanks from the government, which is the major consumer of their intellectual products; deliberately keeping a distance could lead to weakened influence of the think tanks.

American think tanks, for example - often held up as models of freedom, independence and discretion, the very qualities that seem to enable them to keep a distance from the government - actually have close and complicated relations with every administration.

Think tanks cannot survive without administrative resources and information; meanwhile, the government needs to use the influence of intellectuals as opinion leaders to facilitate easy passage of an intended decision and ensuing implementation. However, in spite of their tangled symbiotic relations with the government, the independence of U.S. think tanks cannot be totally denied.

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