What is the purpose of the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center? To what cause does the think tank commit itself? What were the social conditions that made for the birth of the think tank?

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Tsinghua University’s Department of International Relations entered into a partnership in 2010. Our mission is to meet the urgent need to enhance mutual understanding and cooperation on global issues between China and the international community. In this pursuit, we have worked to build a platform in Beijing to facilitate collaborative engagement between Chinese and international experts. As this part of this effort, we aim to introduce China and Chinese ideas to the world and organize track 1.5/2 dialogues in Beijing between Chinese and international experts, scholars, and former policymakers. The Carnegie–Tsinghua partnership is guided by the conviction that the world’s most pressing global challenges can only be resolved through cooperation between China and the international community. 

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing cooperation between nations and furthering international peace, launched a plan in 2006 to build the world’s first global think tank. Under the leadership of Jessica T. Mathews, Carnegie undertook a fundamental redefinition of its mission based on the conviction that as the world becomes increasingly connected, think tanks must develop an international presence and a multinational outlook. The institution now has a presence in five strategic cities which make up its global network, including in Beijing, Brussels, Beirut, Moscow, and Washington, D.C. We also have websites in English, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian. At the same time as Carnegie was going global, Tsinghua was also in the process of internationalizing its studies, programs, and outlook. Tsinghua launched an English-language master’s degree program in the IR department as well as an area studies PhD program. Thus, the Carnegie–Tsinghua partnership was one of mutual benefit and win-win cooperation.

Paul Haenle
Paul Haenle holds the Maurice R. Greenberg Director’s Chair at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and is a visiting senior research fellow at the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore. He served as the White House China director on the National Security Council staffs of former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
More >

Through their partnership, Tsinghua gains the access, resources, and cooperation of all five of Carnegie’s research platforms, including Carnegie’s well-established Asia Program. The Carnegie–Tsinghua partnership works with Carnegie’s other global platforms to host conferences, roundtables, and closed-door briefings and to publish timely and incisive analysis on the most pressing global issues, including international economics and trade; energy and climate change; nonproliferation and arms control; and security threats in North Korea, Iran, South Asia, and the Middle East. Thus, the Carnegie–Tsinghua partnership provides a platform for Chinese scholars to enhance their international influence, engagement, and expertise, and for foreign scholars to enhance their communication and understanding of Chinese views on global issues.

The Carnegie–Tsinghua partnership was established at a time when China was beginning to more closely examine its international role and to become more active on the world stage. At the same time, the international community was trying to better understand China and to find ways to enhance cooperation with China. We believe that the win-win platform we have built at Tsinghua has created important new space in China for dialogue on foreign policy and international challenges, added a valuable venue for Chinese experts to get their ideas into the international debate, and augmented Tsinghua’s expertise in critical areas such as climate and energy policy and the Middle East.

What are the areas in which the think tank places its strengths? What are the think tank’s major achievements or publications in these areas?

The Carnegie–Tsinghua partnership focuses exclusively and primarily on international issues. The partnership has fourteen scholars, each with their own focus relating to China’s international role and relations with the world. Collectively, the joint program’s research areas include: China and the developing world, China-EU relations, the implications of China’s rise, U.S.-China relations, international economics and trade, international security challenges, and nonproliferation and arms control. The dialogue and research which our scholars produce have had pronounced impact on global debates and policymaking. On U.S.-China relations, for example, Carnegie–Tsinghua has held numerous roundtables and Director Paul Haenle’s research focuses on enhancing prospects for achieving President Xi Jinping’s proposal of a new type of major country relations between the United States and China. The recommendations that have been formulated from this work have been conveyed to senior officials in the U.S. and Chinese governments. 

Just as Carnegie-Tsinghua often acts as a bridge between China and the United States, it is also influential in strengthening China’s relations with other countries and regions of the world. Shi Zhiqin, deputy dean of Tsinghua’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences and a Europe expert at Carnegie-Tsinghua, has helped shape EU policy and understanding of China by hosting distinguished scholars from Europe for dialogues at Carnegie–Tsinghua. Last year, Professor Shi presented on China-EU relations to advisors from across the European External Action Service. In addition, Zhao Kejin, an associate professor in the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University and Carnegie-Tsinghua resident scholar, provides expert analysis for Chinese policymakers and international scholars on China-Russia relations, as well as the establishment of China’s national security commission.

Assessing public opinion and conducting public policy research is another strength of Carnegie–Tsinghua’s. Zhang Chuanjie, an assistant professor at Tsinghua and an expert on public opinion, holds regular conferences on U.S.-China public opinion that have attracted notable attention and provided important insights for policymakers. In collaboration with other Carnegie scholars around the world, Wang Tao is examining the implications of China’s rising oil import dependence and rising energy demands. As a Chinese scholar who has an international perspective, Wang Tao was invited by many Chinese and foreign media outlets to comment on the climate deal that Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping reached during APEC last year.  Carnegie’s Asia Program also has strong economics and climate change programs focused on China that can augment Tsinghua’s capacity.

Finally, Carnegie–Tsinghua follows international crises with expert attention and helping the Chinese government better anticipate, analyze, or prevent crises. Last year, Chen Qi, vice chair and professor in Tsinghua’s Department of International Relations, held important discussions on the prospects for a conclusion to the Iranian nuclear negotiations, in which he strengthened ties and understanding with Israeli and other Middle Eastern diplomats in China. In the wake of Hugo Chavez’s death, Carnegie–Tsinghua scholar Matt Ferchen provided critical analysis on China-Venezuela relations during Xi Jinping’s historic visit to the country in 2014. 

In what way is the think tank influential? Through what mechanisms does the think tank gain its influence? What are the events it holds or the topical discussions it weighs in on that define its influence?

The Carnegie–Tsinghua partnership influences policy through a variety of avenues. First, it provides a platform for dialogue outside of official channels through which scholars and experts can identify common areas of interest on global issues and craft policy recommendations in an atmosphere of mutual respect, with an aim toward finding constructive solutions to shared problems. Many Carnegie–Tsinghua scholars have relationships with senior government officials around the world, and can impact policy by conveying their ideas to key decisionmakers. Soon after President Xi Jinping took office, Carnegie scholars Doug Paal and Paul Haenle wrote an article suggesting President Obama and President Xi meet outside of Washington and Beijing to begin to develop a personal relationship and engage in blue-sky discussions. The article influenced White House efforts to organize the Sunnylands Summit in California between Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping in June 2013. Senior Chinese leaders have subsequently conveyed their recognition of the positive and constructive role that Carnegie-Tsinghua is playing on advancing U.S.-China relations.

Who are the idea leaders in the think tank and what are their respective areas of expertise?

We have fourteen scholars at Carnegie–Tsinghua in addition to the network of scholars that the Carnegie Endowment brings to the partnership. Many of them are well-known and all of them well-regarded. The inspiration behind the partnership on the Tsinghua side was Yan Xuetong, one of China’s leading experts on China’s foreign policy, national security, and U.S.-China relations. At Tsinghua University, he is dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations and editor-in-chief of the Chinese Journal of International Politics. Jessica Mathews, President of the Carnegie Endowment, provided the leadership and global vision for the partnership on the Carnegie side. In February, Mathews will finish her term of leadership, and former U.S. deputy secretary of state Bill Burns will assume the role of Carnegie Endowment president and continue high-level support of these efforts. 

Additionally on the Carnegie side, Doug Paal was instrumental in developing the overall concept and the formation of the Carnegie–Tsinghua partnership. Paal is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He previously served in numerous senior-level policy positions within the U.S. government, including serving as Asia adviser in the White House on the National Security Council staffs of Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

The senior representative in the Tsinghua School of Social Sciences is Shi Zhiqin. He is professor and chancellor of the School of Social Sciences and dean of the Department of International Relations at Tsinghua University. Within the department of international relations, handling the day-to-day activities is Pang Xun, our deputy director and a professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Social Sciences. Her recent research focuses on international development aid, emerging economies, and international governance. Carnegie’s senior representative in Beijing is Paul Haenle, who previously served as the White House China director under former U.S. president George W. Bush and President Barack Obama and as the White House representative to the Six-Party Talks. Before that, he served as the principal assistant to former U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley. 

What is the developing strategy of the think tank? Where does its market niche lie?

As the world becomes more interconnected and interdependent, Chinese commercial and security interests abroad will continue to grow. This is a worldwide phenomenon, not limited to China alone. Through our global network, Carnegie-Tsinghua can help experts and policymakers identify shared interests and common solutions to transnational threats like climate change and terrorism, which no one country can solve on its own. Through collaborative research and dialogue, the Carnegie–Tsinghua partnership is uniquely well- positioned to facilitate this engagement. Furthermore, in areas and languages where China currently lacks strong expertise, the Global Think Tank, with its regional presence and localized expertise, can be complimentary to Chinese think tanks and policy groups in assisting the Chinese government with developing short-term risk assessments and long-term strategic visions for their policies in these areas.

Through Carnegie’s global network, our Tsinghua scholars have developed international reputations, gained international exposure, and the opportunity to work with scholars from around the world. Chinese scholars who publish with Carnegie–Tsinghua can get their ideas to an international audience, as Carnegie–Tsinghua’s content and website are entirely bilingual in English and Chinese. One of our scholars, Professor Zhang Lihua, who focuses on China’s cultural values, has been invited to present her ideas overseas many times since Carnegie–Tsinghua began translating and publishing her research on our globally-known website. Furthermore, through our close cooperation with scholars from other leading Chinese universities and research institutes, we have contributed to the effort to internationalize and professionalize Chinese think tanks. We see our role in facilitating this groundbreaking engagement as beneficial and win-win for China and the international community. 

Carnegie–Tsinghua frequently sends our Chinese scholars overseas to visit key strategic capitals around the world to clarify Chinese perspectives and engage with international experts. We also invite international scholars and former policymakers from around the world to China for discussions with Chinese officials, scholars, and students in order to further their understanding of China and facilitate connections and future cooperation. 

Carnegie also has an extensive library of journals and academic resources, a strong editorial staff, and excellent media contacts that it shares with Tsinghua. Carnegie’s network and expertise provides Chinese scholars and institutions with an example of how international think tanks operate so that they can learn from these experiences to expand their own operations and raise their international reputations. This is important as China’s academic and policy communities embark on creating a homegrown network of leading think tanks.

Finally, our global intern program is having an important positive impact on people-to-people exchanges, especially among students. Our interns, leading Chinese and international university students, are provided opportunities at Carnegie–Tsinghua to build mutual understanding, trust, and friendships. Many Tsinghua undergraduate and graduate students have participated in our intern program, giving them the chance to apply their classroom studies in a practical and professional setting. Interns also benefit from the wide Carnegie network when they apply for postgraduate studies in China or abroad and search for jobs. 

What are the obstacles that are facing think tanks in general? In what way can governments back them up in overcoming these obstacles?

In China, President Xi has extended great support for the development of think tanks and stressed the need for Chinese think tanks to enhance their international influence, cooperation, and communication. We believe that further government support for cooperative, joint research centers and think tanks in China would help Chinese leaders achieve those aforementioned goals. Furthermore, the Chinese government has stressed the need for Chinese think tanks to develop more innovative and diverse ideas to meet China’s increasingly complex policy challenges. At a time when there is growing international interest in understanding China’s trajectory and strategic aims, more collaborative think tanks are a key way to incorporate diverse perspectives at the same time China puts forth its own perspectives to the rest of the world.

What does the future hold for Chinese think tanks?

As China grows more influential and active on the international stage, I expect that Chinese think tanks will have to consider international views more and more and increasingly address global challenges. In that sense, more platforms for exchange between foreign and Chinese counterparts will be essential to helping policymakers craft effective foreign policy and shape China’s international role. The development of China’s NSC may help streamline the foreign policy making process in China itself and could perhaps allow for a more transparent route to impact Chinese foreign policy making.

Chinese think tanks will continue to become more professional, more international, and more adept in influencing policy and public opinion in the years to come. Within the think tank community in China, Carnegie–Tsinghua has been adhering to high standards for quality of research and dialogue. We also expect growth in the number of independent think tanks as China seeks a greater diversity of views and policy recommendations to compete in the market of ideas and shape the most effective policies for Chinese leaders. Finally, social media is changing the landscape within China, allowing for the government to better gauge Chinese opinions and feedback on policy and to better communicate Chinese policies.

What are the advantages of being an international think tank in China? What are the obstacles and challenges? In what areas does the think tank aim to make breakthroughs?

As an international think tank in China, our advantages include the diverse perspectives and innovative policy recommendations of our scholars and our ability to attract high-level experts and leaders from around the world to our platform. With these strengths, we can help Chinese think tanks find a platform for international cooperation and engagement and grow their global influence.

We often use our unique ability to attract international scholars in order to contribute to the internationalization of Chinese think tanks. In October 2014, Carnegie successfully worked with two top Chinese think tanks, CICIR and CCCWS, to organize a Global Dialogue, which brought scholars from across Carnegie's global network to Beijing for discussions with their Chinese counterparts. In November 2014, we cooperated with the Shanghai Academy for Social Sciences on a workshop on maritime security, U.S.-China relations, and crisis management. Carnegie invited and supported the travel of four international experts to participate in the workshop including Michael Swaine, a senior associate in Carnegie's Asia program and very well-known China-U.S. expert. In the past, we have also taken international scholars to visit top Chinese research institutions and universities in Chongqing, Tianjin, and Shanghai.

Finally, we believe that a localized approach is key to our success in China. We ensure that our staff and interns are both equally divided between Chinese and international colleagues. We have fourteen scholars based in Beijing. Eleven are Chinese, ensuring that the issues we cover are considered from a Chinese perspective and keep Chinese priorities in mind. The CTC staff coordinates very closely with our Tsinghua partners to ensure that they have an equal role in setting the agenda of the partnership and approve of our activities. We follow the guidance of our Chinese scholars in order to avoid and navigate sensitivities and challenges. At the same time we are well-positioned for collaboration. Eleven international scholars from Carnegie’s Asia program often travel to Beijing to ensure international collaboration on issues of global trade and economics, security, energy, and finance. 

This article was originally published in Chinese by China.org