Chinese think tanks (II)
Under the Chinese political landscape, the limits of Chinese think tanks derive from their mandate to provide logic to the government policies, and therefore a lack of autonomy from the state. This partially explains, for instance, why efforts by Korean think tanks and academic experts to persuade Beijing to reconsider its retaliation against Seoul (for hosting a THAAD anti-missile battery) were unavailing from the very beginning.
A person who participated in some of those closed-door discussions, and who tried to reason with his Chinese counterparts, later summed up his experience as like “talking to a wall.” That is not to say that such communication efforts are unnecessary. The point is that they should keep this in mind when they sit down with the Chinese. After all, the challenge for Chinese think tanks is how to achieve independence and diversity of views, comparable to their overseas peer institutions.
Having said that, in addition to the previously mentioned CICIR (China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations), there are a few other major Chinese think thanks deserving our attention. One is the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). Established in 1977, CASS ranks top among the Chinese think tanks each year. It is also “the world’s largest think tank” with 4,000 people and 31 research divisions. It even has its own publishing company.
At the time of its establishment, China’s Communist Party leaders gave three pillars of mandates to CASS: It should maintain an unwavering support for Marxism, it should keep its status as the supreme institution for Chinese philosophical and social science research, and it should serve as an important think tank for the State Council.
The current president is Xie Fuzhan, who worked for 20 years at the State Council’s Development
Research Center. He was a visiting scholar at Harvard University, and served at the National Bureau of Statistics and the Monetary Policy Committee of the People’s Bank of China, which is China’s central bank.
Regarding the Korean Peninsula, since 1993, CASS has published an academic journal, “Contemporary Korea.” Scholars at CASS who visit Korea are usually from its National Institute of International Strategy that has a strong Northeast Asia research portfolio. In fact, its previous name was the Asia-Pacific Research Institute of CASS until 2012. There are a number of well-known Korea specialists at CASS, including Piao Jianyi who is known to make study tours to North Korea each year.
Among the research arms of CASS, other notables are the Institute of World Economics and Politics (IWEP) and the Institute of American Studies (IAS). IWEP provides research reports to major ministries of the Chinese government, on topics such as WTO, global trade and economic strategies. It is also home to Yu Yongding, a renowned economist who served as a member of the People’s Bank of China’s monetary policy committee. Yu often contributes to the Financial Times.
For Korea, the IAS also warrants attention, amid deepening rivary and competition between the United States and China. It conducts all-around policy studies on the United States. Moreover, there are scholars at IAS who conduct research on Northeast Asian strategies, including the Korean Peninsula, under the larger China-U.S. relations context. Recently, the IAS added a new division, called the
Strategic Research Center. The center is known to exclusively focus on updating current geopolitical affairs on the ground and provide policy briefs to the government.
The China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), located near Tiananmen Square, is a specialized research arm, directly under China’s foreign ministry. It mainly carries out mid- and long-term research in such areas as international diplomacy and global economy. Founded in 1956 as the Institute for International Relations under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, it changed to its current name in 2014. The library has China’s top international affairs book collections and currently has about 250,000 books and diplomatic materials, including in foreign languages: English, French, Russian, German, Japanese and others.
Since 2017, CIIS has been headed by Qi Zhenhong, a former career diplomat, who served as China’s ambassador to Bahrain. CIIS has three vice presidents. Among them, Ruan Zongze served as minister-counselor at the Chinese embassy in Washington from 2007 to 2011. Ruan is a well-known figure who regularly appears on the state-run CCTV to explain China’s position and views. Notable Korea watchers at CIIS include Yu Shaohua and Wu Jingjing, who have both served as Chinese diplomats in Pyongyang. Yu has recently retired, but is still known to be actively engaged in policy research and advising the Chinese government.