In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The New-Type Think Tanks with Chinese Characteristics: Development and Challenges
  • LI Haibin (bio) and QI Dongtao (bio)

Think tanks are “public-policy research analysis and engagement organisations that generate policy-oriented research, analysis, and advice on domestic and international issues, thereby enabling policymakers and the public to make informed decisions about public policy”.1 Since the reform and opening up under Deng Xiaoping, China’s think tanks have developed significantly. They have incontestably played an important role in shaping the country’s social and economic reform programmes. However, Chinese think tanks still lack substantial “international reputation” (国际知名度 guoji zhimingdu) and also cannot meet the government’s and the public’s increasing needs for high-quality policy research and consultation.

As is widely known, China has experienced rapid and dramatic changes in the economic, political and social arenas over the past few decades, and its gross domestic product growth has been significantly higher than that of any OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) area, including North America and the United Kingdom.2 With its rapid economic growth and large population of almost 1.4 billion (or about one-fifth of the world’s population in 2016), China has been facing myriads of governance challenges, which have therefore increased its demand for sound and innovative policy initiatives. According to the University of Pennsylvania’s 2014 Global Go to Think Tank Index, China was ranked among the top 10 countries with the highest capacity of think tanks due to its large population and market requirement. [End Page 3]

In 2013, the Chinese central government announced an important document, the “Decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Deepening the Reform of Several Major Issues” (hereinafter the “Decision”). One of the proposals in the Decision is to cultivate a new type of think tank which caters to China’s needs.3 President Xi Jinping has emphasised that “constructing new-type think tanks with Chinese characteristics is to develop scientific decision-making, democratic decision-making, China’s national governance, and modernisation, as well as strengthen China’s soft power”. The Decision proposed a road map for effective policy support for the scientific development of new-type think tanks, and hence precipitated a hot, nationwide campaign to establish think tanks. In recent years, different organisations, including the Party and government agencies, universities, research institutions and even various kinds of media, have set up think tanks, thereby resulting in a construction boom. Based on the 2015 Global Go to Think Tank Index Report, it is noteworthy that China has significantly outpaced other countries in the number of think tanks and was ranked second in the world behind the United States with 435 think tanks.


The guidelines for a new type of think tank with Chinese characteristics have reflected the trend, connotation and function of the think tanks that were built in the context of China’s historical background and national conditions. To better understand the new-type think tanks with Chinese characteristics, the interpretation can be covered from three perspectives, namely “Chinese characteristics”, “new-type” and “think tank”. Chinese spirit, Chinese system, Chinese ways and Chinese styles are “Chinese characteristics” that think tanks should embody. “New-type” means being distinctly different from foreign think tanks and Chinese traditional think tanks in terms of ideology, organisational forms, operation mechanisms, management styles and system norms. In short, “new-type” think tanks should be innovative and modern. “Think tank” should thus be referred to as the “external brain” of Chinese leaders. As an important part of the national governance system, a think tank should be committed to public policy research and consultation, and also serve the public interest. As Xi highlighted during the announcement of the Decision, “building a new type of think tank with Chinese characteristics is an important and pressing mission. It should be targeted at promoting scientific and democratic decision-making, promoting [End Page 4] modernisation of the country’s governing system and ability, as well as strengthening China’s soft power”.4

At present, China has formed a radiating network of think tanks with the Party, government and military think tanks...


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