Fo­rum: Think tanks can help sta­bi­lize China-US ties

Global Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Bao Chuan­jian

Many China ex­perts, both at home and abroad, agree at one level or an­other, that to­day there are three pil­lars which hold China-US re­la­tions – eco­nomic and trade re­la­tions, se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion, and peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes. As clouds loom over the global econ­omy, eco­nomic and trade re­la­tions, long re­garded as the bal­last for China-US re­la­tions, are fac­ing a sig­nif­i­cant stress test.

Since the trade fric­tion be­gan, thinkers on both sides have of­fered ad­vice on how to man­age this mer­cu­rial re­la­tion­ship. The op­tics are rel­e­vant for think tanks which have be­come driv­ing forces on shap­ing the China-US nar­ra­tive.

US think tanks hold a dom­i­nant po­si­tion in num­bers and in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ence. In devel­op­ment for over a cen­tury, they have de­vel­oped into an in­te­gral part of the US gov­er­nance sys­tem. From propos­ing in­no­va­tive con­cepts to pro­mot­ing strate­gies, these pol­icy re­search in­sti­tutes have con­sis­tently em­bed­ded them­selves in the pub­lic dis­course and so­cio-cul­tural men­tal­ity.

The in­ter­ac­tion and trans­fer of tal­ent be­tween think tanks and govern­ment de­part­ments, known as a “re­volv­ing door” mech­a­nism, has fa­cil­i­tated their in­flu­ence, thanks to their di­rect ac­cess to pol­icy-mak­ers, which is un­com­mon in other na­tions.

In China, the De­ci­sion of the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the Com­mu­nist Party of China on Some Ma­jor Is­sues Con­cern­ing Com­pre­hen­sively Deep­en­ing the Re­form adopted at the Third Ple­nary Ses­sion of the 18th CPC Cen­tral Com­mit­tee ex­plic­itly or­dered to strengthen ef­forts on the build­ing of new types of think tanks with Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics. This was the first time the term “think tank” ap­peared in a CPC Cen­tral Com­mit­tee doc­u­ment.

In 2015, the Gen­eral Of­fice of the CPC Cen­tral Com­mit­tee and the State Coun­cil is­sued the Opin­ions on Strength­en­ing the Con­struc­tion of New Types of Think Tanks with Chi­nese Char­ac­ter­is­tics, clar­i­fy­ing that the think tanks with Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics would of­fer sup­port for the sci­en­tific and demo­cratic de­ci­sion-mak­ing as­pects of the Party and govern­ment, con­trib­ute to the mod­ern­iza­tion of na­tional gov­er­nance, and strengthen soft power. The 19th CPC Na­tional Congress re­port reaf­firmed China would strengthen the devel­op­ment of new think tanks with Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics. Many re­sources have been ear­marked for pol­icy re­search, as China’s think tanks have ush­ered in a golden age of devel­op­ment.

US think tanks have been ef­fec­tive in shap­ing pub­lic dis­course. In 2017, the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion at Stan­ford Univer­sity and the Asia So­ci­ety in New York con­vened for a Work­ing Group on the Chi­nese In­flu­ence Ac­tiv­i­ties in the United States. Over 30 China watch­ers, in­clud­ing 23 US ex­perts and 10 in­ter­na­tional pun­dits par­tic­i­pated in the work­ing group dis­cus­sions. The Hoover In­sti­tu­tion pub­lished the re­sults a few weeks ago, claim­ing a new em­pha­sis on “con­struc­tive vig­i­lance” would be the best way to “cre­ate a fairer and more re­cip­ro­cal re­la­tion­ship that will be the best guar­an­tor of health­ier ties be­tween the United States and China.”

A num­ber of ar­gu­ments and ideas dis­pro­por­tion­ally em­pha­sized con­fronta­tion rather than co­op­er­a­tion, such as the Thucy­dides’ Trap, new Cold War, sharp power, dis­en­gage­ment, and the lat­est in con­struc­tive vig­i­lance, con­tinue their emer­gence in the area of se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion and peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes. Pol­icy changes ad­vo­cated by those who play hard­ball for po­lit­i­cal gains have al­ready cast a shadow over schol­arly com­mu­ni­ca­tion from both sides of the Pa­cific.

Hope­fully, con­struc­tive vig­i­lance will not be a dan­ger­ous sign for China-US di­a­logue.

As il­lus­trated, con­cepts and catch­phrases within the China-US nar­ra­tive have re­turned among think tanks from both coun­tries, or they are known pub­licly as a re­sult of pro­mo­tional ef­forts from the in­sti­tu­tions.

Given the fierce com­pe­ti­tion in the global mar­ket­place of ideas, it is no dar­ing prophecy to say that the en­coun­ters be­tween Chi­nese and West­ern dis­course, in­clud­ing con­cepts, nar­ra­tives, and means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion will con­tinue in the fu­ture, and with greater in­ten­sity. Un­der such cir­cum­stances, think tank diplo­macy will have a more sig­nif­i­cant role be­tween China and the US.

Think tank diplo­macy will help both sides in­crease con­sen­sus and re­duce the risks of strate­gic mis­cal­cu­la­tions. An­other im­por­tant task fac­ing mod­ern Chi­nese think tank schol­ars is to im­prove meth­ods on how to dis­sem­i­nate Chi­nese re­ports and dis­course to their for­eign coun­ter­parts, while also reach­ing a big­ger au­di­ence through them.

In-depth com­mu­ni­ca­tion with think tank schol­ars who have walked out of the “re­volv­ing doors” has played an ir­re­place­able role in deep­en­ing un­der­stand­ing and seek­ing com­mon ground be­tween China-US pol­icy cir­cles.

From the van­tage point of a global knowl­edge net­work, in­tel­lec­tu­als from both sides should guard against the dis­en­gage­ment nar­ra­tive or Cold War rhetoric to achieve what I call “re­silient en­gage­ment.” What I mean by this is that Chi­nese and Amer­i­can cul­tural and schol­arly ex­changes can re­turn to the nor­mal track in the face of ad­ver­sity. Chi­nese and Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties, think tanks, and civil so­ci­eties should play an en­abling and em­pow­er­ing role in pro­mot­ing the sta­ble devel­op­ment of China-US re­la­tions.

The au­thor is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Cen­tral Com­pi­la­tion and Trans­la­tion Bureau. opin­[email protected]­al­

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu Rui/GT

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