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Wang Huiyao: Building a Revolving Door for Chinese Think Tanks

Source: Guang Ming Daily Author: Wang Huiyao Date: 2016-10-19
In the United States, there is a way for personnel exchange between think tanks and governments---the revolving door. Through such a door, thinkers and doers, academics and officials can exchange their roles. This facilitates the interchange between academic communities and governments. When academics leave think tanks and become decision makers, think tanks will exert their influence on national policies. When officials left public office and join think tanks, they strengthen the ranks of think tanks and increase their quality of policy research.

Chinese think tanks are confronted with challenge of personnel exchange. The Guideline on Building New Chinese Think Thanks issued by the Party and the government calls for exchanges between government institutions and think tanks and underscores the need to recommend academics to work in the government. Therefore, it is important to build a revolving door for such exchanges between think tanks and government institutions.

There have been some scholars working in the government and some officials leaving the government and working in think tanks. But such a revolving door mechanism is not well established. There is yet to be true exchange of people between government and think tanks. It is mostly retired officials who join think tanks. And most of them, including ambassadors and counsellors who have international experience and perspectives, prefer to work in associations. Only a few of them will join think tanks. Due to the limitation of China’s public servant system, the chances for people to move from think tanks or the academic community to governments are very few. Only a few of those working in Party or government-affiliated think tanks can make it to the government. Few of those from private think tanks can become government officials.

How to build a revolving door for think tanks? Here are my suggestions.

A mechanism of rotation and secondment for government officials and scholars can be established and operationalized on a trial basis. Scholars may be sent to work in government departments which are closely related to the expertise of their think tanks. Qualified think tanks can also be selected for government officials to work as visiting scholars. This will promote understanding and communication between think tanks and governments. It will also help policy makers gain academic training and scholars get hands-on experience about decision making. Then the successful experience can be institutionalized and replicated.

Mechanisms should be established and improved for the exchange of professionals between governments and think tanks, academic communities and businesses. Policies, standards, procedures and terms for the appointment of public servants should be improved. Efforts should also be made to encourage high-caliber professionals to work in the government. Institutions and legal systems should also be established to encourage public servants to work in think tanks, academic institutions and companies.

The way think tanks operate needs to be innovated to prevent them from becoming bureaucratic institutions. Having government officials, particularly retired senior government officials, working at think tanks as leaders can help better understand policies and raise the public profile of think tanks. While attracting qualified government officials, think tanks should also ensure they don’t become bureaucratic institutions. At the same time, responsibilities should be clearly defined to ensure government officials play their proper role and make contribution in think tanks.

A revolving door should be built for overseas talents as well. As China is more deeply involved in global governance, it has a greater demand for professionals with international perspectives. Favorable conditions should be established to encourage and support exchange of talents between government departments, think tanks and international organizations. Qualified overseas Chinese, professionals from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, returned overseas students and foreign professionals should be invited to join think tanks in China. In places where conditions are ripe, positions in the public sector may be opened to international talents to gain international perspectives in public governance. China may also send professionals to work in international organizations so that China’s voice and perspectives will be heeded in international rules making, and China’s interests will be maintained.

The expertise of former diplomats should be fully utilized to promote Track II diplomacy by think tanks. This is one of the important roles played by retired officials in West who enter think tanks through the revolving door. China needs to increase mutual understanding with other countries through more extensive and in-depth international exchanges. Former diplomats, commercial counsellors and other professionals with international perspectives should be encouraged to work in think tanks to bring into play their international expertise and diplomatic experience.

  (The author is Counsellor of the State Council and President of the Center for China and Globalization.)