Yi Peng (center), President of the Pangoal Institution, speaks at an event on the global implications of China's development in Beijing in November 2017 (XINHUA)
To build new-type think tanks is an important part of China's efforts to uplift its soft power and improve the governance system. The development of think tanks in countries around the world implies that the stronger a country's comprehensive strength, the more prominent its role in the international system will be. In this context, there has been a stronger need for think tanks in China in the past few years, resulting in their faster growth.
Chinese think tanks have played prominent roles not only in advising decision-makers, but also in diplomacy. For example, at the Pangoal Institution, we have focused on Sino-U.S. relations, Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, and also conducted research on issues like the Belt and Road Initiative and global governance. We have utilized the advantages of non-governmental think tanks including flexible mechanisms, a quick response and diverse resources. We have also carried out exchanges with former political leaders, parliament members and think tank scholars in these countries, and played our role in helping develop China's global partnerships and promote coordination and cooperation among major powers.
Even though Chinese think tanks are in a new stage of rapid development, they face many challenges. Some traditional think tanks don't have a good understanding of the functions, features and positioning of the new type of think tanks, and the existing organizational framework cannot adapt to new situations and requirements.
Some of the research results lack sufficient forward-looking models and innovation. The limited capability of international communication has resulted in a lack of international influence. The effective coordination and integration between various types of think tanks are still not enough.
To cope with these problems, we need to make efforts in many areas, such as establishing a national-level think tank coordination system, upgrading traditional think tanks and promoting the development of think tanks affiliated to local governments, enterprises and media to form a group of think tanks at multiple levels with various functions.
The construction of think tanks in the West has a longer history and more abundant experiences, and many of their practices are worth learning from. But think tanks in the United States and Europe boast about their "independence," a tag that they equate with professionalism. As a matter of fact, many of these think tanks are directly affiliated to various government agencies, which, together with armed forces and political parties, make up the main clients of such research institutions.
In the United Kingdom and Germany, think tanks are more closely related to the government than those in the United States and have more obvious partisan positions. Many think tanks are attached to a political party to achieve influence on power and decision-making and have a clear ideological tendency.
Although many think tanks in France emphasize their political independence, their affiliations, research projects and activities all imply their close relationship with their government or with the European Union. In Canada and Japan, a lot of think tanks are founded by the government, or have a large number of researchers from the government, and get a high proportion of their funding from the government. Many indicate that they work for their governments on decision-making. In the United States, think tanks often have clear partisan tendencies and political values. There is no absolute independence.
China's think tanks should not duplicate the Western model but explore a new development path. They should adhere to the leadership of the CPC and socialism with Chinese characteristics, rather than touting so-called "independence."
The core mission of Chinese think tanks should be to provide opinions with a wide view instead of devoting excessive attention to fundraising. They should focus on strategic issues and form a diversified think tank cluster, which would include think tanks affiliated to political parties and the military, think tanks established in universities with solid academic backgrounds, as well as those created by social groups.
The author is president of the Pangoal Institution
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
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