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"It used to be easy to be a Chinese diplomat. You just memorized the two phrases that defined the current policy and repeated them over and over. It's much harder now. You have to know about everything." - Former Chinese Diplomat
China's leadership have started to look at the world through a set of lenses which are far less tinted and jaded with the vestiges of history and ideology than in past years.  These changes have even compelled scholars to investigate the question: where these new foreign policy ideas are coming from?  Indeed one such source is Chinese international relations think-tanks. Their influence has grown in the last couple of decades. Today, there exists a rich assortment of research institutes focused on foreign policy research, analysis, and intelligence in China. Although, majority of these organizations has been in existence for decades however, most of their research and analysis clearly reflected a Marxist-Leninist view of the world.  Chinese analysts interpretations were of limited use due to fixed parameters.  Besides, due to a highly upright integrated bureaucracy most of foreign policy research institutes were compartmentalized wherein analysts seldom talked with one another and often produced redundant and out-dated research.  However, the operations, outlooks, and skills of these research institutes and their analysts began to transform in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They have started evolving in terms of their "functions, responsibilities, and influence." 
Evolution of Chinese Thanks Tanks
Over the past two decades, China's foreign policy think-tanks have come to play increasingly important roles in Chinese foreign policy making and intelligence analysis. And one may anticipate that as civil society continues to develop in China, there will be further demand for policy input and increasing professionalism in both governmental agencies and think-tanks. In all likelihood this will push the intellectuals and scholars to play ever greater role in the years to come. 
Foreign Policy Research Institutes during Mao's China
During Mao's China there were only few international relations research institutes,  however, they were not allowed to conduct policy research. Such restrictions were also faced in the study of social sciences, including international relations. Although some scholars advocated "a degree of pluralism and intellectual participation in political decision- making in the 1950s"  but the central government condemned such opinions and was opposed to proliferation of thinking and of think-tanks.
Foreign Policy Research Institutes in the Post Mao's China
In late 1970s post-Mao China, Deng Xiaoping attached greater weight and value to institutional procedures in the making of policy. These newly resumed foreign policy research institutes were primarily subordinate to the central government departments.  In the period following the late 1970s, eight institutes on international studies were established or resumed within the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Besides, three research units were also re-adjusted. 
Several academic department and institutes were also resumed or established at different universities. 
Typology of Chinese Think Tanks
In Chinese language, two terms used to translate the phrase "think tank", zhinang tuan and sixiang ku. Zhinang tuan refers to a small group of people working as a policy advisories to the top decision-makers. Its meaning is closer to the term "brain-trust." but it is used to translate both notions without much difference.  On the contrary, the concept of Sixiang ku" is literally translated from English and is often used to refer to policy research institutions. 
In Western scholarship, yet consensus is to arrived on how to define what a think tank is, so as alternate, typologies are used as tool of understanding for the many different kinds of think tanks that currently exist  , with acknowledgment that some think tanks cannot be neatly packaged into any one of the categories.  Abelson has identified five types of think tanks: (1) Universities without Students, (2) Government Contractors, (3) Advocacy Think Tanks, (4) Legacy-Based Think Tanks, and (5) Policy Clubs.  McGann and Weaver have argued that there are four types of think thanks: (1) Academic (university without students), (2) Contract Researchers, (3) Advocacy Tanks, (4) and Party Think Tanks. 
Based on the classifications by James McGann and Donald Abelson, but in view of the Chinese practice, this paper will divide Chinese think tanks into three groups. According to their significance in China's foreign policy process, organizational affiliation and the focus of their research are:
Official/Government think tanks;
Semi-official/Academic think tanks;
Civilian/University-affiliated think tanks.
Official/Government thinks tanks
Though not covered by McGann and Abelson's catalogue, these research institutes are the most significant in Chinese context. Subordinated to and sponsored solely by the central government still they are different from the administrative government departments. Its staff members enjoy same pay and rank but they do not have any administrative power or responsibilities; they are only responsible to provide policy advice to the top leadership. These features are different from their Western counterparts as well as from the traditional Chinese political system where policy advisers were also government officials. China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) is a classic example of Government think tank. 
The China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) consists of seven research divisions namely: American Studies, Asian-Pacific Studies, East European, Central Asian and Russian Studies, International Politics, South Asian, Middle Eastern and African Studies, Western European Studies, World Economy. It has an editorial board, library and Information center and also published a journal entitled Guoji wenti yanjiu (China International Studies) on quarterly basis.  The CIIS also co-edits Survey of International Affairs with Shanghai Guoji xingshi nianjian (Institute of International Relations). 
the CIIS was not much significant in China's foreign policy advisory realm until recently for a number of reasons. Firstly, a "bureaucratic assumption at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that every worth knowing things was already known 'in-house'"  . Thus the Ministry of Foreign Affairs relied on other channels to generate information and policy advice like the Fourth Division of the Information Department (ID4D).The Division was responsible for generating and analysing the most up-to-date information from three channels: (1) cable communications from Chinese missions abroad; (2) foreign media; and, (3) daily bulletins on diplomatic activities.  Secondly, most of CIIS researchers tended to focus on tactical aspects of China's foreign policy issues rather than focusing on long-term and comprehensive studies. Thirdly, many CIIS staff members were experienced diplomats but lacked systematic training for policy research.
However, the past few years have seen an increasing role for the CIIS and now the institute has emerged as the full counterpart to leading research institutes attached to foreign ministries around the world, like the Japan Institute for International Affairs or the Royal Institute of International Affairs.  This change started with the appointment of former Ambassador Yang Chengxu as the CIIS President in 1996, partly due to Yang's external entrepreneurial acumen as well as internal policy conformity, and partly to the new financial resources from MEAL and the Ford Foundation.  The other explanation for the change could be varying composition of the CIIS staff: the merger with the China Centre for International Studies in 1998 certainly helped the CIIS to strengthen its "analytical expertise,"  and the CIIS recruitment of new graduates from top-ranked Chinese universities who were sent abroad for training also enabled them to have a higher quality research team.
Semi-official/Academic think tanks
Under Chinese law, semi-official think tanks are "public institutions".  The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Zhongguo Shehui Kexueyuan) is China's biggest and most important academic research organization in the fields of philosophy and social sciences.  The total number of the research staff members is 3,045, of whom 1,531 have senior professional titles, whereas 909 of them are intermediate professional titles. 
Of their eight institutes on international studies seven deals with area studies on America, Eastern Europe, Russia, Middle Asia, Japan, Europe, West Asia, Africa, Latin America and Asia pacific, whereas, only one is on world Economy & politics. The motivation behind the formation of these institutes was based on the "perceived policy needs" and the expectation of advisory roles for social scientists. 
However, the CASS institutes used to play a less important role than their counterparts for two reasons: First, their distantance from the centre of decision-making; secondly, their research works were often regarded as too academic and not relevant enough to policy.  The significance of CASS has also been affected by political factors, as Goldman observed, "in the wake of the Tiananmen incident, if the work of social scientists "presents information that contradicts the party's view of society or the party's interests, it is unlikely that it will be listened to and can easily be suppressed."  In spite of that the recent decade has witnessed a closer linkage between the academic research of CASS international relations specialists and their policy analysis; and, the influence of the CASS as think tank in China's foreign policy process has also shown a noticeable growth.
A recent development in this category is the newly formed China Centre for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE). This is established in March 2009 and headed by former Vice Premier, Zeng Peiyan. The center, according to official website, is "a comprehensive association with the mission of promoting international economic research and exchanges and providing consulting service". The CCIEE is composed of Administrative Office, Department of Research, Department of Cooperation, Department of Consultation, and Department of Information. It publishes Research Report, Think-tank's Voice, Feedback and other materials. The official website declare that the main scope of business and services of the CCIEE is to study economic issues, conduct economic exchanges, promote economic cooperation, and provide consulting services. 
The center have started its impressive input with its first mega-event of "Global Think Tank Summit" in Beijing held in first week of July 2009, which was focused on crisis remedy and future development. More than 900 scholars, experts and representatives from business circle from around the world including former President of the European Commission Romano Prodi, former Secretary of State of the United States Henry Kissinger, and Muhammad Younas, laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize attended the conference. 
Civilian/University-affiliated think tanks.
The third group of think tanks consists of institutes affiliated with universities, which may or may not contain undergraduate students. They are the least influential think tanks for two main reasons: the research done by the university institutes is largely academic in nature, and there are limited channels for university think tanks to be heard other than the so-called brain storming session for scholarly discussion on China's foreign relations.  However, they have had substantial influence in developing, examining and criticizing alternatives in policy-relevant realms or in helping to create images of other countries.  Having said that, some universities affiliated with government ministries, such as the China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU) have more influence than their counterparts.
The University was founded in 1955 at the personal urging of the late Premier Zhou Enlai.  At present, Mr. Wu Jianmin, (chairman of International Bureau of Exhibition and former Chinese Ambassador to France) is the President of CFAU. The CFAU is affiliated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is better positioned to provide policy advice than most other university institutes.  The CFAU has earnestly implemented the Party's guidelines for education and followed the 16-character code of conduct formulated by Premier Zhou Enlai in its efforts to turn out ethically qualified and professionally competent personnel for foreign service, namely, "Unswerving Loyalty, Mastery of Policies, Professional Competency and Observance of Discipline. 
In general, following the incremental increase of the think tanks' influence on China's foreign policy process, the university think tanks appear to have become more active in providing the top leadership with policy recommendations since late 1990s.  Nevertheless, the joint-projects involving the university think tanks are often limited in scope and mainly focus on areas such as energy security and environment protection. 
The Present Status of Chinese Think Tanks:
At present think tanks are the main source to provide input of diverse insights to government in the realm of international relations and thus filling the gap caused by Cultural Revolution and other isolationist practices in the past. Thus existence and pace of increase in quantity and quality of think tanks in China provide access and interaction points to the world communities that are unprecedented since 1949. This is almost win-win game for analyst sitting in Chinese think tanks and for any governmental or non governmental actor outside China to have "focused interaction". This interaction could be in form of conferences, seminars, research journals specific call for papers and perhaps the best of all, in form of specific policy discussions. The appetite of Chinese analyst for perspective and insights is understandable as it is only edge that makes him or her and their organization count.
The present inability of Chinese analyst in IR think tanks is vivid by policy recommendations that adhere to several models of action depending on different reactions of non-Chinese actors and most of the times become subject of criticism by official circles and press.  Thus analyst need "prediction accuracy" and for this is in need of interaction that provide enough insight and perspective. One way to facilitate the analyst for greater interaction and access could also be monitoring websites of CTT and addressing the problems posed by them, through policy discussions and seminars. Likewise, it might be of great help to provide space in Western research journals to the analyst and researchers working at academic and university think tanks in China.
In brief, the present stage of think tanks in China related to foreign policy are going through a stage of transformation and deliverance that provide an excellent opportunity of interaction and access to researchers, academics, public policy institutions and all non-governmental actors outside China.
The Future of Policy advice and Think Tanks in China
Cheng Li of John L. Thornton China Center made two observations regarding the future direction of Chinese think tanks. Firstly, for the foreseeable future, Chinese government think tanks will remain the most influential in the policy community. And secondly, Chinese independent think tanks will gradually grow in quantity, skill, and influence. He argued that the development of Chinese think tanks will definitely promote the communication and integration between China and the world. 
Many people, when pressed, might be able to name the Chinese President Hu Jintao or its Premier, Wen Jiabao. But when it comes to Chinese foreign policy, outside the circles of China-watchers, how widely is the international relations establishment known and understood? Even more so, beyond the direct control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its state apparatus, what do we know -Â as thinkers and policy-makers or as student with an interest in regional and international affairs -Â of the role, influence and worldviews of the more shadowy elements of the Chinese international relations hierarchy? Most specifically, what do we know about Chinese international relations think-tanks? Today Chinese think tanks are there to help their country to formulate policies on scientific and objective standards, and perhaps more important for rest of us, they are there to help us deepen our understanding of foreign policy process and perhaps influence internally the actual policy here and there through access and interaction.