Exploration and Practice in Transforming China's Think Tanks

  Time:2013-07-15   Hits:0

- -An Interview with Chi Fulin, Director of the China (Hainan) Institute of Reform and Development



Development of China's think tanks is far from being adequate. Most of them operate under administrative organs at various Levels, State-owned enterprises or social organizations, forming an important part of the country's establishment of institutions. They are not sufficiently independent in research, hence the Limited number of research achievements with proprietary intellectual property rights and foresight.


Text by Staff writer Wan Lei


The china (Hainan) Institute of Reform and Development is a non-profit legal entity specializing in research, consulting, training and other work in connection with China's reform and development. The Institute has become known as a 'national think tank for reform and development" thanks to the pattern of its own development that calls for comprehensive, internationalized and independent research. Following is a transcript of an interview given recently by its director Chi Fulin to Economy and Nation Weekly on the Institute's research achievements and operational pattern.

Economy and Nation Weekly: Would you give us an review of the research achievements the Institute has made since its birth 22 years ago the influence of those research achievements?

Chi Fulin: The basic function of the Institute, a Chinese think rank for reform and development, is to analyze the demand for reforms and propose ways of reform to facilitate the making of decisions on reform, help achieve consensus on reform and promote the reform process. Over the past 22 years, serving the needs of reform has always been our principal task. We have closely followed up the most conspicuous issues in the reform process and have produced a range of research results that are widely influential and are good enough for use by decision-makers and for helping achieve consensus on reform schemes.

Economy and Nation Weekly: Please give us some concrete examples showing how you have pinpointed those practical problems in reform for research. Chi Fulin: Such examples are numerous. In the early 1990s, China kicked off 21n exploration into the theory and practice for developing a socialist market economy and instituting a system of modern corporate governance. We were involved and our reform proposals arouse the attention of China's decision-making organs, researchers and the general public.

Another example is a proposal we put forward in 1992 on establishment of a new type of social security system in Hainan Province. The proposal was used as a blueprint for restructuring the province's social security system. Meanwhile, it aroused the attention of many other provinces and eventually, the pattern we proposed was made one of the two for adoption nationwide.

We also helped resolve the problems facing China's rural areas, agriculture and rural population. A public debate broke out in 1995 0n the number of years set by the system of contracting collectively-owned farmland to individual households for farming. Some scholars questioned the legitimacy of the system, invoking worries of farmers about what to do upon expiration of the 30-ycar contractual term. In response, we submitted “A Sixty-Point Proposal on Deepening the Rural Economic Reform,” calling for perpetuating the right of farmers to use of farmland and making the land they are farming on contracts a rightful property of theirs.

Economy and Nation Weekly: What research have you undertaken to facilitate the making of key policies?

Chi Fulin: Inflation ran wild in China around 1994. In response, we submitted “A Fifty-Point Proposal on Effective Control of Inflation amid a Rapid Expansion of the National Economy.” We called for making inflation control a macro target to be attained through macro-economic regulation and we also called for effectively curbing inflation through work to accelerate the reform and development. Many points in our proposal were adopted by the central government departments in formulating reform policies.

In 2004, structural overheating occurred in the Chinese economy, prompting us to propose ways of accelerating the reform in the course of macro-economic regulation. To be specific, we advanced a range of proposals on reforming the Financial and taxation system, the system of land use, the market for the various factors of productive forces and the banking sector. After the outbreak of an international financial crisis toward the end of 2008, we made it clear that the traditional pattern of export-oriented development can longer sustain and that to counter the crisis, China needs to intensify the reforms. We proposed expansion of basic public services to boost demand. We called for concentrating on improving rural public services in work to boost rural consumption. And above all, we submitted “A Twenty-Four Point Proposal on Reliance on Reform to Resolve Problems Caused by the Crisis.” All of these aroused widespread attention.

Economy and Nation Weekly: What research of foresight and of strategic and long-term importance have you undertaken?

Chi Fulin: In 2009, we submitted to the National Development and Reform Commission a policy consulting report entitled "A Proposal on Reform during the Twelfth Five-Year Plan Period." The report stated explicitly that change of the development pattern must be taken as the main line in China's endeavor for development. The report was used as an important document for reference by the NCDR in its work to draft China’s Twelfth Plan for Economic Development and Social Progress (2011-2015).

In 2011, we produce the policy consulting report entitled “A Public Service-Based Government - a Strategic Study on China's Administrative System over the Forthcoming Five to Ten Years.” The Stare Commission Office for Public Sector Reform spoke highly of the report, and then submitted it to China's top leaders. As far as I know, the report played a significant role in the formulation of plans for changing the functions of the State Council and for reform of China's administrative system.

Economy and Nation Weekly: Independence, quality of research achievements and influence are the internationally applicable criteria for judging the success or failure of a research institution. What have you done to be institutionally and organizationally independent in research?

Chi Fulin: In developed countries, think tanks play a pivotal role in ensuring scientific, democratic decision-making and in guiding the selection of values. Think tanks are a source of strength for those countries' soft power and are an important player in the shaping of those countries' images. Development of China's think tanks, however, is far from being adequate. A scrutiny of China's think ranks, however, reveals the fact that their development is far from being adequate. Most of them operate under administrative organs at various levels, State-owned enterprises or social organizations, forming an important part of the countries establishment of institutions. They are not sufficiently independent in research, hence the limited number of research achievements with proprietary intellectual property rights and foresight. Independence is the basis on which a think tank builds its capability for independent research and its influence, in fact the key to its success. Independence of think tanks saves public money, but even more important is that it makes it possible for think tanks to undertake research with an open mind, thus adding vitality to them. Meanwhile, think tanks must follow the overall planning by the central government and must serve the needs of decision-making by the central government.

When it was established, the Institute was a government institution with the same administrative status as a department directly under a provincial-level government. It was semi-independent financially. Among the 80 people on its permanent staff, 30 were on government payroll. In the second half of 1992, we submitted a report to the Hainan Provincial Government, asking for permission to transform the Institute by allowing it to retain its status as an institution while practicing corporate governance. That means the Institute would no longer be entitled to financial allocations from the government. The Hainan Provincial Government approved our reform plan. This enabled us to adopt a policy of “independence in running the Institute, managing possible risks, accumulating funds and seeking development.” We have instituted a system of holding the director of the Institute responsible under the leadership of the bureau of directors, allowing the director of the Institute to independently decide on financial and personnel affairs.

Economy and Nation Weekly: Your Institute features a “small staff plus a large network of close contact” and what you choose to call “internationalized research.” Would you explain by giving us details?

Chi Fulin: “Small staff” means a permanent staff small in size while comprising quality personnel. We now have fewer than 50 people on our permanent staff.  Meanwhile, we have got a large group of experts involved in our research. That is what we mean by “a large network of close contacts” with experts from outside the Institute.

Shortly after it came into being, the Institute set up an academic committee headed by Wang Mengkui, former director of the State Council Development Research Center. We have now built up close contacts with several hundred experts who, when necessary will be involved in our research projects. These experts, especially those on the Academic Committee, have helped ensure that our research projects are targeted at China as a whole, comprehensive in nature and of strategic importance and foresight.

By “internationalized research” we mean positive efforts to develop research projects through international cooperation and exchange, to increase the influence of the institute as a think tank by using international research resources.

Backed by 'internationalized research," the Institute has played host to many international forums and has organized more than 70 international symposiums on China's reform, which were attended by renowned experts from outside China and ranking officials of international organizations. These have enabled us to acquire knowledge of foreign experience in reform and contributed to the enhancement of our influence in and outside China.


(from conference journal of The Third Global Think Tank Summit by CCIEE)

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