China as a great nation seems to have too few think tanks known to the public in contrast to too many in the U.S. This apparent disparity does not reflect the effectiveness of the think tanks in each country. The overwhelming number of U.S. think tanks is actually creating too many theories, projections and policy recommendations (often with contradictory assumptions and conclusions) regarding China policy. To the American public, the think tanks create a confusing story of US-China relation and future prescription way above the common citizens’ heads. Magically, the think tank outputs (including government’s own think tank units) are 'processed' by the government to a ‘unified position’ and fed to the common citizens to absorb through mass media. Of course, the output of think tanks and mass media are also 'absorbed' by China and their 'think tank' professionals who must sort out who says what and who is influencing whom to their own government policy makers and the general public. Judging on the current US-China relation, it seems that these ‘processing and absorption’ steps in each country are creating serious disconnect with reality causing mistrust and worsening relation between the U.S. and China.
China is perceived as an authoritarian system, regarding foreign policy, based on the fact she has few think tanks expressing their opinions to the public. However, China must have enough think tank professionals to analyse and interpret all the productions of the U.S. think tanks. Their work may not all appear in the Chinese mainstream media but plenty do circulate in certain organic channels through the Internet. I do understand that when a government adopts a foreign policy, the process is never totally transparent to a common citizen, hence, I as well as many of my fellow citizens cannot understand how the U.S. Administration arrives at a fuzzy anti-China policy among all somewhat contradictory theories: "China Is a Threat", "China's Doomsday Is Near", "China Is Surpassing the U.S. In Missiles, Satellites and Laser Weaponry", "China's Navy Is Decades behind that of the U.S., Our Pacific Fleet Knows the Whereabouts of Every Chinese Vessel", ....Similarly, we also do not understand how China formulates a "Tai-Chi" style US policy in reaction to the various versions of 'China policies’.
During the week of September 22 to 28, 2015, the Chinese President Xi Jin Ping is making a State visit to the United States. Xi's itinerary starts first in the State of Washington, meeting over 600 top U.S. business and industry leaders as well as non-federal government officials including state governors and city mayors. His key messages on China's policy in trade, investment and economic cooperation seem to be plain and simple – “China’s door is open and we want to collaborate…” However, you can hardly find any coverage in the mass media particularly American TV on Xi’s words trying to explain to the American people. Ironically, The Pope's visit is arranged just prior to Xi’s visit lasting the same duration so that mass media attention is directed nearly entirely to the Pope as if the Pope’s visit was deliberately used to 'low key' and silence the Chinese President's State Visit despite of the fact that China has announced the purpose of this State Visit as “to improve communication, increase cooperation, understand differences and collaborate on world affairs”. As a common citizen, one cannot help but wonder, must foreign diplomacy be conducted like a secret chess game no citizens are allowed to watch. Why isn’t Xi encouraged to address the joint Congress, American universities or even interviewed on CNN? We used to think that the communist regimes do not like foreign leaders to address their citizens for being afraid of getting a truthful message. Xi has given numerous speeches in Europe and Asia explaining his vision: Chinese Dream, One Belt and One Road (Ambitious Eurasian Co-prosperity Economic Development Plan) …. Why don’t we request Xi to speak up in America to the American people directly in his six-day State Visit? On Xi’s Seattle stop, China has agreed to purchase 300 Boeing planes worth probably ten years of Boeing’s business, why should this be limited only to a Seattle local news coverage? After Xi’s speech at the UN announcing China’s intension to provide more assistance to the developing countries, over 30 UN member country leaders lined up to shake his hands. The U.S. can claim credit for challenging and making China to engage more in world affairs, why not broadcast his speech through the U.S. mass media?
The State visit of Obama to China in 2014 had accomplished a number of things, agreement in managing climate change, protocol of naval encounter, simplified visa requirement and tariff reduction. Xi’s visit to the U.S. are expected to realize a detailed Climate Change agreement, a protocol on airspace encounter and a government agreement on not knowingly supporting hacking on commercial entities, but the details of the above are not reported to the public’s satisfaction. The announcement on cyber hacking was an U.S. sought-after objective which was obtained after accepting some Chinese concepts of norms of cyber behavior. It is all good that State Visits can create beneficial effects; but the U.S.-China relation cannot be chartered by State visits, which are expensive and inefficient means for conducting foreign affairs between two great nations. Between the U.S. and China, we must increase contacts on all levels in various domains and promote cultural interactions to improve mutual understanding, regarding history, common elements and differences in social foundations, common benefits in economic development and national interests. The two governments must take more transparent steps to channel think tank work into governments’ policy making processes. For this purpose, the U.S. has an advantage of already having so many known think tanks, the problem is to develop a transparent process to debate and distill their intellectual work incorporating more citizens’ views not just the special interest groups and money hands, for example, through true public discussion rather than political lobbying activities. Whereas in China, it is time to open up more public think tanks on political and foreign affairs. In today's Internet propelled communication age, opening up intellectual interaction on critical national and international issues is the quickest way to resonate with genuine public thinking and desire and to avoid misunderstanding and upheaval.
The Brookings Institution, a highly regarded think tank in the United States has announced the opening of Brookings China while President Xi is visiting the U.S. Obviously; the Chinese government has given the green light to Brookings. I hope that this is a policy shift that will foster a public Chinese think-tank industry in the near future. Not only the intellectual endeavor in these think tanks is important for the benefit of the U.S.-China relation and other foreign affairs, but they also create very much needed job opportunities for intelligent knowledge workers for both Chinese and American citizens. Of course, to ripe the benefits of think tank activities, the governments need to delicately manage the transition between transparent think tank activities (research, open debates etc) to state-secret information processing (involvement of government agencies). For this objective, both the U.S. and China need to learn together.
Sun Tze said, “knowing yourself and your adversary well, you will never fail in any encounter (with your adversary)”. When two nations have to keep secrets from each other, their relation cannot be at the best. Open exchange on the think tank level is a productive way of developing mutual understanding – “knowing yourself and your adversary well” and build a friendly and mutually trusting and beneficial nation to nation relationship.
We wish Brookings China and other future Chinese think tanks a bright future. The world peace may depend on them!