Where China Can’t Compete

Beijing's Think Tank Trouble

Members of the military band of the People's Liberation Army of China perform during the City Day celebration in central Moscow, September 5, 2015. Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping wants China to be a world-class competitor—from its soccer team to its military to its currency. And with the right investment in human, financial, and institutional capacity, there is no reason he should not succeed. Yet in one critical area, Xi is likely to fall short: the development of world-class think tanks. In 2013, Xi called for the establishment of think tanks with “Chinese characteristics” and made their development a strategic priority. Almost two years later, in January 2015, reportedly unhappy with such research institutions’ weak predictive capacity, low international standing, and inability to sell Chinese ideas globally, he upped the ante by unveiling plans to build 50 to 100 “high end” centers capable of competing internationally. Despite such high-level commitment, however, the country is struggling to fulfill Xi’s ambition.

Certainly there is no shortage of think tanks or talented people to fill them. There are reportedly more

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