“Sea Turtles” or “returnees” behind China’s think tank growth

29 March 2011
SERIES Think tanks in China 11 items

This is a very interesting paper by Cheng Li on the trends of think tanks in China -with particular emphasis on the roles being played by influential returnees such as Justin Lin.

The paper also highlight the new roles played by policymakers, entrepreneurs and intellectuals in these new organisations (such as the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, the Chinese Economists 50 Forum, and the China Center for Economic Research at Peking University):

The most notable is that three distinct groups of elites—current or retired government officials, business leaders, and public intellectuals—have become increasingly active in promoting their personal influence, institutional interests, and policy initiatives through these semi- governmental organizations. In present-day China, think tanks have become not only an important venue for retired government officials to pursue a new phase in their careers, but also a crucial institutional meeting ground where officials, entrepreneurs, and scholars can interact.

The paper addresses how the relationship between the state and think tanks is changing. Traditionally think tanks were given spaces (or acquired space) as a result of the patronage of powerful officials -or the interest of Premiers and Party Chairmen. Today, however, think tanks are fast becoming a place to reflect on a long public career or plan a future one -adopting the US style revolving door think tank model. The relation to power is therefore more plural, open and even critical (within acceptable boundaries).

But what is most interesting to me is the concerted effort of the Chinese government to promote the formation of think tanks in China -even creating super think tanks.