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New trends for Chinese Think Tanks

China has had a long tradition of think tanks serving as policy researchers and governmental advisors. Currently, according to Xufeng Zhu, Director of the Centre of Chinese Policy Science, and Associate Director of the Centre for MPA Education, Nankai University, there seems to be a new trend constisting of non governmental think tanks entering the public policy arena and posing a challenge to certain institutions, such as semi – official think tanks.

Chinese think tanks are stable and autonomous organisations that undertake research and provide guidance and consultancy on several policy issues. There are three types of these kinds of institutes in this country:

1. Official policy research institutes, under the control of specific ministries and ministries’ institutional missions;
2. Semi – official think tanks, that are connected to a supervising government agency, and
3. Non governmental think tanks.

Until now, semi official think tanks have been the most important component in policy research and consultation outside of the Chinese government; such two important institutions are the Development Research Center (DRC) of State Council and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). They are independent legal institutions, supervised by the Chinese state. They are also now more independent and are expressing their views in a more direct manner, even those that go against official governmental positions.

However, nongovernmental think tanks are now increasing competition for semi official think tanks, who used to dominate policy consultation channels. These organisations emerged after Deng Xiaopings’s South China tour in 1992, two types of which are noteworthy: those set up by China’s colleges and universities by returned scholars, and those set up by experts who had success in public institution-type think tanks.

Government officials are paying more attention to the opinions proposed by non-governmental think tanks than before, especially in the international relations field [...] Non-governmental think tanks are also an increasingly important link between Chinese government officials and foreign experts.

Another important feature of Chinese think tanks to point out is that there seems to be a “revolving door” of researchers that leave their institutions to enter politics and public office, but then retire from these positions to go back to academic life. The China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE, in 2009) is known for this “revolving door” effect, since many retired officials are now serving as the organisation’s leaders and are in charge of conducting the research work.

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