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  • Chinese Foreign Policy Think Tanks and China's Policy Towards Japan
  • Zhiqun Zhu (bio)
Xuanli Liao . Chinese Foreign Policy Think Tanks and China's Policy Towards Japan. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2006. 371 pp. Hardcover $49.00, ISBN 962-996-266-7.

Xuanli Liao's book is a theoretical and empirical study of Chinese think tanks' role in China's foreign policy making, especially in China's policy toward Japan over the two decades subsequent to the Opening and Reform policy of the late 1970s. Dr. Liao, who studied history and international relations in Beijing, Niigata, and Hong Kong, and currently teaches international relations at the University of Dundee, Scotland, is well trained in international politics and Chinese foreign policy. Her research sheds some new light on China's opaque decision-making process as Chinese society becomes more pluralistic and diverse.

Conventional wisdom has it that China is a monolithic society, with foreign policy-making power heavily centered at Zhongnanhai, the compound of the Chinese Communist Party leadership. Liao's book, which takes the pluralistic elitism approach, argues that China's political system and the process of foreign policy making have become more dynamic, with more policy input from different sources. Although political elites still enjoy dominance in foreign policy decision making, there has been a growing "pluralistic trend" of policy input, most notably from international relations think tanks (p. 11).

Liao divides Chinese foreign policy think tanks into three categories based on their organizational affiliation, their significance in the policy-making process, and their research focus; Liao's categories are government think tanks, academic specialized think tanks, and university-affiliated think tanks (p. 56). Government think tanks-such as the Center for International Studies affiliated with the State Council, the Institute of International Relations affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations affiliated with the Ministry of State Security-are the most important and influential among the three groups. Academic specialized think tanks refer to those institutes under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). CASS foreign policy think tanks, although less influential than government think tanks, have at times served as a bridge between Chinese and foreign governments, especially during crises when official channels of communication were not so smooth. For example, the Institute of American Studies under CASS acted as a messenger between the Chinese and American governments after the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia in 1999. The CASS think tanks and university-affiliated think tanks such as Beida's Institute of International Relations and Fudan University's Center for American Studies have also been involved in the so-called "Track II" diplomacy between China and the United States and other governments. [End Page 463]

According to Liao, Chinese foreign policy think tanks differ greatly from their Western counterparts in the following three areas: a higher level of monopoly, fewer sources of financial support, and more channels to influence the top leadership (p. 60). Unlike their Western counterparts, which often influence the policy process through lobbying or partisan advocacy, Chinese foreign policy think tanks typically use two means to reach policy makers: formal channels such as submitting policy reports and analyses, and informal channels, guanxi, to reach the top leadership (p. 243). It is well known that the late Wang Daohan, former mayor of Shanghai and chairman of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, and scholars close to him used informal channels to influence Jiang Zemin's America and Taiwan policies in the 1990s. Wang was considered a mentor and confidant of Jiang and was reportedly frequently consulted by Jiang on state and foreign affairs.

Liao states that China's foreign policy decision making has changed greatly under three generations of the Chinese leadership: from centralized elitism under Mao Zedong to pluralistic elitism under Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin. To illustrate her point, Liao uses three case studies in China-Japan relations to examine how international relations think tanks influence China's foreign policy: (1) China's view of the U.S.-Japanese security alliance, (2) China's coping with the historical issue of how to evaluate Japan's responsibility during the...


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