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COVER STORY: Think Tanks in China
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Think Tanks in China
By Jordan Snyder

BT 202009 340x458A Think Tank is a corporation or institute that collects specialised information or knowledge that is then used for in-depth research across a wide range of subjects. Some Think Tanks use this knowledge and research to influence policy and public opinion. In today’s complex society, reports produced by Think Tanks play an influential role in helping decision makers decide their policy agendas.

From a list of the world’s top 175 Think Tanks, the Chinese Think Tanks considered to be among the world’s best are:

- China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR)
- Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS)
- China Institute of International Studies (CIIS)
- Development Research Centre of the State Council (DRCSC)
- Shanghai Institute for International Studies (SIIS)
- Institute of International and Strategic Studies, Peking University (IISS)
- Centre for China and Globalisation (CCG)
- Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies (CIFS)

The USA has the largest number of Think Tanks with 1,871, China has the third highest number at 507, while India has 509 and the UK has 321.

BT 202009 COVER STORY 004a智库是一家公司,或者机构,主要收集某个特殊领域的信息,然后深入研究,并为政府或社会机构提供决策的建议。在当今复杂的社会中,智库的报告在帮助决策者决定其政策议程方面发挥着重要作用。美国的智库为全球最多。当然,中国国内也有很多著名的智库,如世界排名33的中国现代国际关系研究院。这篇文章为大家介绍中国国内智库的作用和影响力,它们的类型,以及列举几个中国国内的智库。

What is the role of Chinese Think Tanks?

BT 202009 COVER STORY 02Think Tanks are used to ascertain the way in which China is helping to influence the world; they are being increasingly used to assist the Chinese government to make decisions both accurately and scientifically to enhance China’s international stature. While many Think Tanks are organised by the government, there are an increasing number of Think Tanks within the private sector, including some relative newcomers such as the Alibaba Think Tank, the 21st Silk Road Collaborative Centre and the Qianhai Institute for Innovative Research.

Think Tanks will often advocate for change, such as social and political change, using research that influences public opinion. The reports that Think Tanks produce can play a major part in helping the leaders of government, both locally and nationally, craft their agendas. Think Tanks, not just in China but around the world, are often classed as being liberal or conservative in the policy recommendations their reports advise. Chinese Think Tanks cover a wide range of topics covering social policy, national defence and the military, the economy, and culture, as well as emerging new and improved technology. While many Think Tanks are not part of the government, they may well work for government agencies or private companies with political affiliations.

The use of Think Tanks grew rapidly in the late 1980s, which coincided with the end of the Cold War and the emergence of globalisation. This trend began particularly in the USA, and of the 1,800+ Think Tanks in that country, over 400 of them are based in Washington, DC.

Types of Think Tanks

BT 202009 COVER STORY 01There are generally three types of Think Tanks in use around the world today:

This type of Think Tank holds a particular political philosophy or bias and contains either liberal or conservative viewpoints. These types of Think Tanks are used purely to formulate solutions to socio-political problems while actively working to persuade the leaders of governments to apply those solutions. Some Think Tanks in this sector will use solutions that actively benefit their corporate donors and may cross the line between research and political lobbying.

This category of Think Tanks are often affiliated with and supported by non-partisan institutions such as universities. They conduct research and then report on a broad range of subjects such as global economics, the environment, food supply or public health. Rather than trying to influence policymakers, specialised Think Tanks try merely to inform them.

Action-oriented Think Tanks, also known as ‘think and do’ Think Tanks, will actively participate in implementing the solutions that were formulated during the research phase. This may include funding projects such as humanitarian aid, eliminating famine in underdeveloped countries or constructing projects such as irrigation systems throughout the developing world.

China’s Leading Think Tanks

The China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR)

BT 202009 COVER STORY CIIS 02The China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations is classed as the leading Chinese Think Tank and is a longstanding, multifunctional and extensive research and consultation centre that focuses on international strategic and security studies. It covers the entire geographical world in its comprehensive and strategic research. In 1980, it opened to the public, and it took on its present name in 2003.

It has a staff of around 300 which includes its researchers, with personnel working across fifty institutes and offices such as the Department of International Exchanges and the Centre for World Information and References. For several years it has carried out wide-ranging, thorough, high-end international academic exchanges. In 2015, it was designated as a pilot unit to increase the number of top Think Tanks in China.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS)

BT 202009 COVER STORY SIIS 02CASS is the leading academic organisation and comprehensive research centre in the PRC in the fields of social sciences and philosophy. It was established in 1977 and replaced the Department of Philosophy and Social Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Its first president was Professor Hu Qiaomu, who was followed by several others as president, the current one being Professor Xie Fuzhan.

CASS comprises 31 research institutes and 45 research centres, and it has over 4,200 staff, of which 3,200 are professional researchers. The main role of CASS is broad international academic exchange, and this has resulted in a constructive relationship with over 200 research organisations across more than 80 countries.

The China Institute of International Studies (CIIS)

BT 202009 COVER STORY CIISThe CIIS is the Think Tank of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was founded in 1956 under the title of the Institute of International Relations, changing to its present name in 1986.

CIIS focuses on research and analysis regarding medium and long range policy issues of strategic importance, particularly those that concern international politics and the world economy. The institute has developed a world-wide scholarly exchange network and regularly holds meetings with foreign research institutions, conducting collaborative research projects with both domestic and foreign scholars. CIIS currently has seven research departments and has a journal that provides information to its contributors and researchers, with an English edition for readers unable to speak or read Chinese.

The Shanghai Institute for International Studies (SIIS)

BT 202009 COVER STORY SIISThe SIIS was founded in 1960 and is a government-affiliated, high-calibre Think Tank that is dedicated to government decision-making through its research on policy oriented studies in world politics, foreign policy, economics and international security. Through its extensive exchanges and cooperation with research institutions both in China and overseas, the SIIS has boosted China’s influence and soft power internationally. SIIS has a full time staff of 106 research fellows and other personnel, and was first ranked among the top ten Chinese Think Tanks in 2006. It currently comprises seven institutes and six research centres, in addition to being an institutional member of the Shanghai International Strategic Studies Association and the International Relations Association.

The Institute of International and Strategic Studies Peking University (IISS)

BT 202009 COVER STORY IISS 02The IISS was officially founded in 2013 and is affiliated with the School of International Studies, PKU. Its aims are to promote the development of academic research and policy research connected to world politics, international security and global strategy. Its focus is on the analysis of international situations that face China, in addition to the international strategy of those related countries. Based on those findings, it publishes or presents research results to the relevant authority to provide intellectual support for China’s decision-making in international strategy and the teaching of relevant subjects. It also tries to educate the public to understand the issues related to national security and international strategy in a sound, reasonable and correct way.

The Centre for China and Globalisation (CCG)

BT 202009 COVER STORY CCG 02The CCG is one of the leading nongovernment Think Tanks based in Beijing. It is dedicated to studying Chinese public policy and globalisation. Its strong research team enjoys an impressive record of publications and events with a broad public policy. Its agenda centres on China’s growing role in the world, including issues of global governance, investment and trade, global migration and international relations.

The Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies (CIFS)

BT 202009 COVER STORY RDCYOtherwise known as the RDCY at Renmin University of China, this Think Tank was established in 2013, with its main programme supported by an education fund of a 200 million RMB donation. It is a new style of Think Tank incorporating Chinese characteristics, and has cooperation from Think Tanks in 30 other countries. RDCY currently has seven departments and operates four research centres, and it is one of the leading Think Tanks behind the ‘belt and road’ cooperative alliance through trade and commerce.

The Fourth Revolution

BT 202009 COVER STORY 11The United States, Europe and their allies must confront an uncomfortable truth: they have fallen behind China in AI. Unaware of the extent to which Chinese systems are embedded in global technologies and emerging 5G systems, these nations must now face how compromised their nations’ security and economic apparatuses are by China. With the world heedless to their power, an emerging technology ‘Trojan Horse’ is already embedded. Emerging before us is a new Cold War: China versus the United States; Cisco vs Huawei. What will it take for recognition of the power that these companies hold?

This is the policy issue of the future as it is going to transform, shape and determine domestic, economic, education, work and security policy, in addition to society itself. Calls to not ‘over-hype’ the peril of AI masks not only the potential dangers of AI but also the need to react and mobilize.

In the United States and Europe, there is a lack of the necessary mobilization of resources to respond to these challenges, setting them at an economic and security disadvantage. Think tanks have a responsibility to emphasize and address these challenges, and to find the funding to do so. Policy always lags behind science and technology; however, with AI, the main differential is that AI moves at warp speed. In this way, this fourth industrial revolution is incomparable to the first, second and third.

In this fourth revolution, whereas government has previously been the principle funder of science and technology, government is retreating. Who is going to fund this pursuit if think tanks are to at least compete? How can think tanks most effectively confront these challenges?


The fourth industrial revolution has begun, and think tanks are currently behind. As the global speed of change increases at an unprecedented rate, fueled by technological advancements, the acceleration of disruptions is already clear; a new arms race is upon us as China races ahead while the United States and Europe are locked in relative competition with each other. The world is facing a series of unprecedented challenges and opportunities.

Truth itself is being questioned. Crucially, as these disruptions unfold, the distinction between studying AI and utilizing it is fast disappearing. Recent technological advancements have the potential to revolutionize, accelerate and increase the impact of the work that think tanks do. To do so, there is a serious business model evolution that think tanks must undergo.

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