Wash­ing­ton-based think tanks go­ing Chi­nese

With China’s fast rise, think tanks in na­tion’s cap­i­tal are ex­pand­ing their re­lated work on the coun­try, Chen Weihua re­ports from Wash­ing­ton.

China Daily (Canada) - - IN DEPTH -

On Sept 22, the day Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping landed in Seat­tle for his first state visit to the United States, one event in the Emer­ald City didn’t really make any head­lines.

The Brook­ings Institution, the top-ranked think tank in the US and world­wide, in­au­gu­rated its China Coun­cil in a cer­e­mony held at the law of­fices of Dorsey and Whit­ney in the Columbia Cen­ter build­ing, the tallest in Seat­tle.

The cer­e­mony was fol­lowed by a pub­lic event at Seat­tle Univer­sity, where some of Brook­ings’ top China schol­ars, such as Jef­frey Bader, David Dol­lar and Cheng Li, joined Wash­ing­ton State’s Demo­cratic Con­gress­man Rick Larsen, co-chair of the House US-China Work­ing Group, and sev­eral oth­ers to ex­plore the chal­lenges and prospects of US-China re­la­tions.

Brook­ings set­ting up its China Coun­cil is an ex­am­ple of a new and ex­panded fo­cus go­ing on among the close to 400 think tanks in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal: China. Sim­ply put, the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­omy is a hot topic among the think tanks, and on an av­er­age day they put on mul­ti­ple events, rang­ing from dis­cus­sions on China’s eco­nomic slow­down and its ac­tions on cli­mate change to ten­sions in the South China Sea and the newly launched Asia In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank.

Brook­ings’ China Coun­cil is de­signed to pro­vide fi­nan­cial and in­tel­lec­tual sup­port for its John L. Thorn­ton China Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton and the Brook­ings-Ts­inghua Cen­ter in Beijing, both set up in 2006. Its found­ing mem­bers in­clude more than a dozen busi­ness and opin­ion lead­ers such as for­mer US am­bas­sador to China Jon Hunts­man and Ya­hoo co-founder Jerry Yang. John Thorn­ton, co-chair of the Brook­ings’ board and Qiu Yong, pres­i­dent of Ts­inghua Univer­sity, serve as hon­orary co-chairs.

Martin Indyk, Brook­ings’ ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent and a two-time US am­bas­sador to Is­rael, de­scribed the cen­ters in Wash­ing­ton and Beijing as “two par­al­lel oper­a­tions that en­hance each other” and a vi­sion by Thorn­ton.

Bench of schol­ars

While say­ing that the Thorn­ton cen­ter has built a “deep bench of schol­ars” on China, Indyk ac­knowl­edged that re­sources at the Ts­inghua cen­ter are lim­ited.

Qi Ye, di­rec­tor of the Brook­ingsTs­inghua Cen­ter and an ex­pert on China’s low car­bon poli­cies, is now the only res­i­dent scholar while other Chi­nese and Amer­i­can schol­ars as­so­ci­ated are all non-res­i­dent.

“We felt we really needed to build up the Brook­ings-Ts­inghua Cen­ter as well, so this would be more like in par­al­lel in terms of the ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” said Indyk, cit­ing the grow­ing pol­icy is­sues that need to be tack­led with China’s rise.

“To do that, we de­cided that it makes sense to have a group of in­di­vid­u­als, cor­po­ra­tions, both Amer­i­can and Chi­nese, who would sup­port the work of both cen­ters, and who would see the value of in­de­pen­dent re­search by a think tank, both for China and for United States,” he said.

With the launch of the China Coun­cil, the Ts­inghua cen­ter plans to add three more res­i­den­tial schol­ars over the next three years, re­cruit two post-doc­toral fel­lows a year, es­tab­lish a reg­u­lar vis­it­ing scholar pro­gram, cre­ate a new aca­demic ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee and ex­pand of­fice space. The Thorn­ton cen­ter will ex­pand by forg­ing ties with Ts­inghua, launch sig­na­ture fo­rums, re­cruit young ris­ing stars, es­tab­lish en­dowed chairs, name vis­it­ing schol­ar­ships and spon­sor in­tern­ships.

Ex­pand­ing re­search

Brook­ings is not alone in ex­pand­ing re­search on China.

The Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional (CEIP) Peace, set up in 1910 and housed in a build­ing next to Brook­ings on Mas­sachusetts Av­enue, was once fo­cused on transat­lantic is­sues and the Soviet Union. But it started to hire schol­ars to work on the Chi­nese econ­omy, pol­i­tics and strat­egy start­ing in the 1990s with China’s rise.

“If we are go­ing to be taken se­ri­ously as a think tank and be com­pet­i­tive in Wash­ing­ton, we have to be in the game of an­a­lyz­ing China as well,” said Dou­glas Paal, vice-pres­i­dent for stud­ies and di­rec­tor of the Asia pro­gram at CEIP.

CEIP is ranked sec­ond in the US by the Think Tanks and Civil So­ci­eties Pro­gram (TTCSP) at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, which an­nu­ally pub­lishes The Global Go To Think Tank In­dex Re­port.

Paal joined CEIP in 2008 af­ter work­ing on China at var­i­ous US gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, from the White House and the State Depart­ment to the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency. He was an un­of­fi­cial US rep­re­sen­ta­tive to Tai­wan as di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute in Tai­wan from 2002 to 2006.

In 2010, CEIP launched its Carnegie-Ts­inghua Cen­ter for Global Pol­icy at Ts­inghua Univer­sity in Beijing, which fo­cuses more on is­sues re­lat­ing to China’s for­eign re­la­tions, en­ergy and cli­mate change.

The cen­ter reg­u­larly brings to­gether Chi­nese and US ex­perts for con­fer­ences. The one on China-US se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion held in June this year amid the grow­ing tension in the South China Sea drew a high-cal­iber panel that in­cluded CEIP Pres­i­dent Wil­liam Burns, who was US deputy sec­re­tary of state un­til a year ago; Stephen Hadley, US Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush; Gary Roug­head, chief of US Naval Oper­a­tions from 2007 to 2011 as well as He Yafei, China’s for­mer vice- for­eign min­is­ter and Chen Xiao­gong, for­mer vice-com­man­der of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Air Force.

Paal has been kept busy too, trav­el­ling fre­quently to China.

The same trend of hav­ing a greater fo­cus on China and all of Asia is hap­pen­ing at the At­lantic Coun­cil think tank, which has long fo­cused on trans-At­lantic is­sues. The coun­cil is said to be de­bat­ing whether to change its name af­ter ex­pand­ing its re­search to in­clude Asia, Africa and Latin Amer­ica. The coun­cil has quadru­pled in size since Fred Kempe, a for­mer Wall Street Jour­nal jour­nal­ist, took of­fice in 2007 as pres­i­dent and CEO.

Robert Man­ning, a se­nior fel­low at the Brent Scowcroft Cen­ter on In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity at the At­lantic Coun­cil, said un­like Brook­ings, its China re­search is still scat­tered at var­i­ous cen­ters. “But it’s al­ready amaz­ing for one that tra­di­tion­ally fo­cuses on trans-At­lantic stud­ies,” said Man­ning, who had worked in the State Depart­ment, the Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Coun­cil and as di­rec­tor of Asian stud­ies at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions.

The cen­ters on Latin Amer­ica, Africa and South Asia and the pro­grams on en­ergy and global busi­ness and econ­omy all con­duct re­search re­lat­ing to China.

Man­ning’s words are re­flected in Wash­ing­ton’s think tanks to­day.

Jon Hunts­man, chair­man of the At­lantic Coun­cil, has en­cour­aged the coun­cil to do more on Asia and China, ac­cord­ing to Man­ning.

“We are try­ing to in­sti­tu­tion­al­ize on­go­ing Asian pro­grams, so far I have been do­ing more from project to project,” Man­ning said, adding that fund­ing is still an is­sue.

Joint projects

In Septem­ber 2013, the At­lantic Coun­cil and the China In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (CIIS) jointly turned out a re­port af­ter a year­long US-China joint as­sess­ment project. The re­port, China-US Co­op­er­a­tion: Key to the Global Fu­ture, con­cluded that any hope­ful global sce­nario can only be re­al­ized if there is close co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and the US.

In a re­port co-writ­ten with Olin Wething­ton, Man­ning ar­gued that the US needs a strat­egy for con­struc­tive en­gage­ment that leads to an in­clu­sive and rules-based or­der that fos­ters pros­per­ity and co­op­er­a­tion in Asia. “Nei­ther US with­drawal nor ag­gres­sive con­tain­ment is de­sir­able,” they wrote in the re­port ti­tled Shap­ing the Asia-Pa­cific Fu­ture.

Man­ning said he might start an­other project on North­east Asia, in co­op­er­a­tion with the China In­sti­tute for Con­tem­po­rary In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions (CICIR).

Joint re­search is com­mon be­tween US and Chi­nese think tanks. Paal said CEIP and the China Foun­da­tion for In­ter­na­tional and Strate­gic Stud­ies (CFISS) have con­ducted joint projects on China-US cri­sis man­age­ment for more than 10 years, each pay­ing their own costs.

Robert Daly, di­rec­tor of the Kissinger In­sti­tute on China and the United States at Wil­son Cen­ter, said his in­sti­tute will join the CEIP and Luo Yuan of the PLA Acad­emy of Mil­i­tary Science in a new US-China Se­cu­rity Per­cep­tions Sur­vey, a poll of elite and pop­u­lar opin­ion in the two coun­tries on com­par­a­tive hard and soft power in 2016 and be­yond.

While Luo has been re­garded by some in the West as na­tion­al­is­tic and anti-Amer­i­can, Daly de­scribed him as “pro­fes­sional, col­le­gial and a good part­ner.”

CEIP and Luo’s team did a sur­vey on the sub­ject in 2013, but Daly said that so much has changed un­der Pres­i­dent Xi that “we have to do it again”.

The Kissinger In­sti­tute was founded in 2008 and di­rected by for­mer US am­bas­sador to China Sta­ple­ton Roy, a highly re­spected ex­pert on China and the son of a US mis­sion­ary in China. Daly, who headed the Mary­land China Ini­tia­tive at the Univer­sity of Mary­land, took over in Au­gust 2013.

Daly ac­knowl­edged that his in­sti­tute is small com­pared with Brook­ings and CEIP, so it has to fo­cus on things that can dis­tin­guish it from oth­ers.

“There is a plan that re­quires fund­ing. But I would say the trend lines are good be­cause China is such an im­por­tant topic… Not ev­ery­one in the Wil­son Cen­ter can say that,” said Daly, who, like his pre­de­ces­sor Roy, speaks flu­ent Chi­nese.

Un­like most think tanks in Wash­ing­ton, the Wil­son Cen­ter, which is ranked fifth among US think tanks, is housed in a wing of the Ron­ald Rea­gan Build­ing, a fed­eral of­fice build­ing. It re­ceives about $10 mil­lion, or about a third of its an­nual op­er­at­ing fund, from a US gov­ern­ment ap­pro­pri­a­tion. Other fund­ing comes from foun­da­tions, grants, cor­po­ra­tions and en­dow­ments.

Asked if the gov­ern­ment money has com­pro­mised the re­search, Daly ac­knowl­edged it’s a rea­son­able sus­pi­cion. “But in fact, the an­swer is no,” he said.

Non-par­ti­san way

While Daly is paid by the US gov­ern­ment, he has to raise money for his staff. “We can and we do crit­i­cize the gov­ern­ment all the time. We have to do it in a non-par­ti­san way,” he said.

In an ar­ti­cle en­ti­tled For­eign Pow­ers Buy In­flu­ence at Think Tanks pub­lished in Septem­ber 2014, The New York Times re­ported that the At­lantic Coun­cil has re­ceived do­na­tions from more than 25 gov­ern­ments out­side the US since 2008.

But Man­ning, the se­nior fel­low there, said there is a big em­pha­sis on in­tel­lec­tual in­de­pen­dence. “If there is fund­ing from a par­tic­u­lar gov­ern­ment, we de­sign the project and it doesn’t in­flu­ence our out­come or view in any way,” he said.

Paal of CEIP also dis­agreed with the Times ar­ti­cle, say­ing coun­tries like Nor­way have no in­ter­est in buy­ing think tanks; they just think it’s more ef­fi­cient to use US think tanks than start­ing their own.

The US leads the world with 1,830 think tanks, fol­lowed by China’s 429, the UK’s 287, Ger­many’s 194 and In­dia’s 192. Of the US think tanks, about 400 are in Wash­ing­ton and an­other 150 in neigh­bor­ing Mary­land and Vir­ginia, all in a bid to have the max­i­mum im­pact on the gov­ern­ment, law­mak­ers, the news me­dia and the pub­lic.

The CEIP has an en­dow­ment in ex­cess of $200 mil­lion that cov­ers 50 per­cent of the cost, with the rest from ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions, foun­da­tions and in­di­vid­u­als.

The Carnegie-Ts­inghua Cener is also funded by CEIP alone. Paal said the CEIP does not ac­cept money from the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, but does ac­cept do­na­tions from Chi­nese in­di­vid­u­als not as­so­ci­ated with the gov­ern­ment.

Op­er­a­tion cost

Brook­ings’ Indyk said of the institution’s an­nual op­er­a­tion cost of $100 mil­lion, only 15 per­cent comes from its en­dow­ment, while the re­main­ing 85 per­cent has to be raised.

“We are in­volved in a big fundrais­ing op­er­a­tion. It never stops,” he said. Like most think tanks, Brook­ings’ fund-rais­ing comes from four sources: in­di­vid­u­als, cor­po­ra­tions, foun­da­tions and gov­ern­ments.

Indyk said Brook­ings does not take money from the US gov­ern­ment for re­search, ex­cept for con­fer­ences. He em­pha­sized that when Brook­ings takes money from gov­ern­ments, it makes very clear to them that Brook­ings de­cides what it will re­search, who will do the re­search and what the fund­ing will be, adding that for­eign gov­ern­ments are very re­spect­ful of Brook­ings’ in­de­pen­dence.

While not rul­ing it out in the fu­ture, Indyk said Brook­ings has not taken money from the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment. He spec­u­lated that it might be the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment which does not want to be as­so­ci­ated with in­de­pen­dent re­search they might not agree with.

Indyk said Brook­ings has many re­la­tion­ships with Chi­nese think tanks, mostly in hold­ing con­fer­ences but not joint re­search.

In April 2013, Pres­i­dent Xi made the de­vel­op­ment of think tanks a na­tional strate­gic pri­or­ity and called for the build­ing of “new think tanks with Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics.”

That has prompted many Chi­nese think tanks to seek help and co­op­er­a­tion from over­seas part­ners, es­pe­cially in the US and Europe.

In Oc­to­ber, as many as 15 schol­ars from Brook­ings’s for­eign-pol­icy pro­gram, in­clud­ing ex­perts on the Mid­dle East, were in China. “They think it’s a re­sult of China’s great en­gage­ment with the world,” Indyk said.

Indyk, along with his China schol­ars Ken­neth Lieberthal and Cheng Li, was in Beijing in April 2014 for a US- China think tank sum­mit, offering their ad­vice to Chi­nese coun­ter­parts.

Paal of CEIP in­di­cated that he has been ap­proached by 44 new think tanks in China this year, look­ing for ad­vice from how to run a think tank and raise money, to hir­ing peo­ple and pub­lish­ing.

“I understand, but I can­not brief ev­ery think tank. That’s too much time,” he said.

Paal’s ad­vice is that if you want cred­i­bil­ity as a think tank, you have to at­tend to ba­sic things such as in­de­pen­dence.

Daly of the Kissinger In­sti­tute said that the level of tal­ent in Chi­nese think tanks is as high as any­where in the world. But he frowned at the con­cept that th­ese think tanks should be part of China’s soft power strat­egy. “They will not have any cred­i­bil­ity un­less they are seen as crit­i­cal think­ing and truly in­de­pen­dent an­a­lysts in in­ter­na­tional terms,” he said.

Cheng Li, di­rec­tor of the John L. Thorn­ton China Cen­ter at Brook­ings, noted that many of the Chi­nese vis­it­ing schol­ars Brook­ings hosted over the years are play­ing a big role back in China.

He be­lieves that in­de­pen­dence would be too high a stan­dard set for Chi­nese think tanks now. While Brook­ings is ob­sessed with in­de­pen­dence, not ev­ery US think tank is in­de­pen­dent and some ac­tu­ally serve one par­tic­u­lar party or in­ter­est group.

China and Asian schol­ars at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion and Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, widely re­garded on the far con­ser­va­tive side, did not re­spond to China Daily’s re­quest for in­ter­views.

In Li’s view, di­ver­sity is what Chi­nese think tanks should pursue. “Only when there is di­ver­sity, will there be dif­fer­ent voices. When gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion-makers hear th­ese dif­fer­ent voices, they can make choices,” he said.

But Li be­lieves there could be higher stan­dards when there is a more open en­vi­ron­ment in the fu­ture. He has spear­headed the Thorn­ton Cen­ter Chi­nese Thinkers Se­ries, a set of pub­li­ca­tions that in­tro­duce Chi­nese thinkers to English lan­guage read­ers.

Li, widely re­garded as the most prom­i­nent Chi­nese-Amer­i­can in US think tanks gi­ant, said China will be­come a think tank even­tu­ally. “Sooner or later China will have its own Brook­ings or CEIP, but it’s go­ing to take time and it won’t hap­pen im­me­di­ately,” he said, adding that the Brook­ings-Ts­inghua Cen­ter has a spe­cial role to play there.

Con­tact the writer at chen­wei­hua@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com

CHEN WEIHUA / CHINA DAILY — Source: 2014 Global Go To Think Tank In­dex Re­port, re­leased in Jan­uary 2015 by The Think Tanks and Civil So­ci­eties Pro­gram (TTCSP) at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia

For­mer NBA star Yao Ming talks about sports and cul­tural diplo­macy at the Brook­ings Institution in Wash­ing­ton on March 28, 2014. From left, moder­a­tor Wil­liam An­tho­lis, a se­nior fel­low at Brook­ings; David Stern, com­mis­sioner emer­i­tus of the Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion, and Yao’s in­ter­preter.

In the US:

1. Brook­ings Institution 2. Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace 3. Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (CSIS) 4. Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions (CFR) 5. Woodrow Wil­son In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter for Schol­ars 6. RAND Cor­po­ra­tion 7. Pew Re­search Cen­ter 8. Cato In­sti­tute 9. Her­itage Foun­da­tion 10. Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress (CAP)

Chi­nese Think Tanks in the Top 100 Think Tanks World­wide: 27. Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sci­ences (CASS) 36. China In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (CIIS) 40. China In­sti­tutes of Con­tem­po­rary In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions (CICIR) 48. De­vel­op­ment Re­search Cen­ter of the State Coun­cil (DRC) 61. In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional and Strate­gic Stud­ies (IISS), FKA Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional and Strate­gic Stud­ies 71. Shang­hai In­sti­tutes for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (SIIS)

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