Unlike most Western think tanks, most Chinese think tanks are in some way affiliated with the government, which largely dictates their function and work. They range from government-funded policy research institutes to fully independent think tanks that receive no government funding. The majority, however, lie in between, supported by and working for the government but not considered government agencies. In 2008, China had roughly 2,500 policy research institutes, which employed about 35,000 researchers mostly drawn from the ranks of leading PRC academics and retired government officials, according to Xinhua News Agency. Western analysts—such as James McGann, director of the Think Tanks and Civil Society Program at the University of Pennsylvania—identify approximately 70 leading central-level think tanks comparable to think tanks elsewhere, with varying levels of influence on the policymaking process.

Most Chinese think tanks research economic and international relations issues, but a few engage in sensitive domestic political and military issues. Many groups distill international policy and experience into an applicable domestic policy package for government agencies to incorporate into their policymaking. Some think tanks have helped to identify politically sensitive issues that require attention from the authorities, such as rural social disturbances, and to get them on the policy agenda.

Government policy research institutes

Many key government bodies have established policy research institutes to research and draft policies for their parent agencies to ratify and implement. Some are extremely influential in establishing policy in their fields. Key government policy research institutes include:

  • The Central Party School (CPS)  CPS is the top education center of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and is responsible for training government officials at the county level and above in political theory, governance, and leadership.
  • State Council Development Research Center (DRC)  The DRC conducts policy research on economic and social issues and provides policy frameworks, including long-term development plans.
  • Ministerial policy institutes  Many ministries maintain entities to research and provide draft policies.

Official think tanks

These institutions report directly to government agencies or are housed within government-directed universities and conduct research for policymakers. This group constitutes the majority of China’s think tanks. Leading examples include

  • China Academy of Sciences (CAS)  CAS is China’s top center for science and technology research and related policy research and development. Founded in 1949 and reporting directly to the State Council, CAS now has nearly 37,000 technical staff, including more than 1,000 PhD-level researchers.
  • China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS)  CASS also reports to the State Council and includes 31 separate research institutes with more than 3,000 researchers. CASS provides input on a broad range of policy issues. Though not generally considered think tanks, China’s state-owned enterprises also influence policy in sectors in which they have a strong presence.

“Semi-official” think tanks

  • China Center for International Economic Exchange (CCIEE)  This body, headed by former PRC Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan and established in March 2009, is tasked with examining the current global economic crisis and providing support to key government decisionmakers in crafting response policies.
  • Shanghai World Trade Organization (WTO) Affairs Consultation Center  Founded in 2000 and headed by former WTO negotiator Wang Xingkui, the center trains company executives, collects information on WTO issues for PRC government and public consumption, and researches issues related to upcoming WTO negotiations

Independent think tanks

A small group of entirely independent think tanks derive their funding from domestic commercial sources or international institutional and commercial sources, which shape their research work. Prominent independent think tanks include the Unirule Group, founded in 1993. As they are not associated with government agencies, these organizations can be the most critical of government policy.

Future trends

More think tanks have been established in the last decade than any previous period in PRC history, and the recent founding of the CCIEE indicates high-level government support for semi-official think tanks. It also suggests think tanks may continue to proliferate and gain influence as China’s policymaking becomes more sophisticated, and that other specialized groups could be established to tackle high-profile policy issues.

[author]This article is adapted from a report that first appeared in China Market Intelligence, the US-China Business Council’s (USCBC) members-only newsletter. To find out more about USCBC member company benefits, see www.uschina.org/benefits.html.[/author]

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