Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Advising the Leadership
Yiyi Lu, the writer says: "At a recent conference of Chinese political scientists and international relations scholars in Beijing, a western academic remarked that he was struck by how Chinese scholars often seemed keen to use their research to come up with advice for the Chinese state on how to advance its goals. He observed that, by contrast, western scholars were more likely to act as critics rather than aspiring advisers to their governments."
In the meantime, the Chinese top leadership gathered for a summer conclave in the resort of Beidaihe to decide the future of the Middle Kingdom.
Jeremy Page for The Wall Street Journal wrote: "Vice President Xi Jinping, the man widely expected to take over the Communist Party's top job in the fall as part of the transition, met officials and academics advising the government in the northeastern beach resort of Beidaihe on Sunday, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. It was the first official confirmation that he and other top Chinese leaders were in Beidaihe, where current and retired Communist Party chieftains usually gather in late July or early August to rest and hold informal talks in sprawling villas along a private beach."
Incidentally, it was in Beidaihe, that 50 years ago Mao Zedong decided to 'teach a lesson' to Nehru and India. I have dealt the subject in my article Why Mao attacked India in 1962.
The question of experts advising the Government will make many smile in India, where politicians do not need 'advice', having been elected by the People of India and in any case, being all-knowing.
The role of 'advisers' is certainly over-all positive, as in any case, it is up to the leaders to accept or reject the suggestions. However, often in China (perhaps due to the competition), these advisers offer the most extreme views.
Take the case of Zhao Gancheng, director of South Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, an India's expert. He recently criticized India's proposal to reopen the Indian Lhasa Consulate in Lhasa. He analyzed that the move was motivated by political, rather than economic interests: "The Indian government hopes to closely watch, observe, and infiltrate the Tibetan area after the opening of a Lhasa consulate, ... The issue regarding Tibet is an internal affair and we won't tolerate any external forces imposing a negative impact on the situation in Tibet."
So, why to have a Nepali Consulate in Lhasa.
This is not sound advice. Zhao Gancheng, who, by the way is often invited by Indian think-tanks, seems unaware of the traditional bonds between Tibet and India.The Indian presence on the Roof of the World is older that the British 'imperialist' (for the Chinese) inroads in Tibet.
One of the best proof is the collections of thousands of 700-year old Sanskrit manuscripts found in Tibetan monasteries by the scholar Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan visited Tibet in the 1930's. Such examples could be multiplied.
If the Indian Government had wanted "to watch, observe, and infiltrate" Tibetans, they could have done it long ago, with or without a Consulate General in Lhasa.
It is a pity that Zhao, the India's expert, does not see the good (for China, as well as India and Tibet) that could result of reopening an Indian Consulate Consulate in Tibet.
China should not always listen to advisers, as they often see issues in a narrow nationalistic prism which may please some of the leaders, but will not bring long-term solutions to vexed issues.
Advising Chinese Leaders: Futile Efforts?
Wall Street Journal
August 6, 2012
At a recent conference of Chinese political scientists and international relations scholars in Beijing, a western academic remarked that he was struck by how Chinese scholars often seemed keen to use their research to come up with advice for the Chinese state on how to advance its goals. He observed that, by contrast, western scholars were more likely to act as critics rather than aspiring advisers to their governments.
One can think of a number of explanations for the different dispositions of Chinese and western scholars. One important reason would be the Chinese system for generating “internal references” – internal reports written exclusively for high-ranking officials, and financial and other rewards for those whose reports make a good impression on those officials.
A large number of reports and analyses are produced daily by Party and government organs, state-owned research institutes, media organizations and quasi-governmental organizations in China, according to the many who have written them over the years. These reports are not published for the benefit of society at large. Rather, their circulation is restricted to senior officials, in order to keep them better informed of the situation in the country. Because they are kept as internal documents, these reports discuss problems more candidly and often include data and information that are deemed sensitive and are therefore withheld from the public.
Many organizations produce internal reference reports for the leadership in parallel to their work for general release. For instance, China’s state-run news agency Xinhua publishes thousands of news reports every day. At the same time, Xinhua journalists also write reports for internal publications produced exlcusively for senior Party and government officials. The several thousands of researchers at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences publish books and journal articles just like scholars in other academic establishments, but they also contribute articles to the academy’s own internal publication produced for the state leadership.
The performance evaluation of researchers in government research institutions takes into account both their academic publications and their contributions to internal publications. For example, a CASS researcher would earn points toward her evaluation for publishing academic books and journal articles. She would also earn points for writing articles for the internal publication. If her article in the internal publication is read by a senior official — ministerial level and above — who appreciates it enough to write a comment, then the researcher would earn not only points but also cash rewards, say those who have been on the receiving end of these transactions. It would also increase her chances of winning a promotion. For some government-funded research projects, there is even the rule that no evaluation is necessary if the researchers write an internal reference article that has been read and commented on by a top leader.
The system that encourages or even requires researchers to produce internal analysis for the state apparatus is one reason why many Chinese scholars appear to enjoy playing adviser to the government. Another reason is that the state has increasingly become the main source of funding for social-science research in China in recent years. In addition to centrally administered funds such as the National Social Science Fund, individual Party and government agencies also provide funding directly to universities and research institutes to carry out research projects on their behalf. The state and individual agencies set the framework for the research projects and define their objectives. Naturally researchers are expected to produce output that serves the needs of their state sponsors.
The extensive and elaborate system for utilizing social-science research to develop policy recommendations for decision-makers should have made the Chinese government one of the best informed and advised in the world and uniquely equipped to address challenges facing the country. Yet, in many areas, the billions of yuan poured into government-funded research and the page after page of internal reference advice offered by the country’s best scholars do not seem to have resulted in any improvement in the government’s performance.
Take for example China’s soft power and international image, an area where Beijing appears eager to score points and has funded many research projects in the past several years. The National Social Science Fund alone has funded organizations such as the Xinhua News Agency, China International Publishing Group, Renmin University of China, Shanghai International Studies University and China Radio International to conduct research on how to build up China’s international communications capacity. On many occasions over the past few years, I have heard Chinese researchers and communications professionals discuss this issue. It is clear that they have a good grasp of what need to be done to improve China’s international communication. It is also clear that their analyses and recommendations have been fed to the decision-makers.
Yet, looking at China’s actual practice in international communication, which is marked by one blunder after another, there is no evidence that the generous investment in research and the collection of advice and suggestions have made any difference. At the above-mentioned conference of Chinese political scientists and international relations scholars, many of the longstanding criticisms of China’s soft-power projection attempts and international communication policies and practices were again aired by participants. For example, one scholar suggested that absolute statements such as “China will never seek hegemony” are logically flawed and not persuasive. Another researcher remarked that the thinking of state organs such as the Party’s International Liaison Department and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was still stuck in the pre-Internet age—they still think that any message they send out would be accepted without question.
A third researcher compared the microblogs of the U.S. embassy and consulates in China with that of the Foreign Ministry, pointing out that the popularity of the former among Chinese internet users is attributable to their style of communication, among other things. The Americans’ microblogs have such endearing features as “being talkative” and “playing cute.” MFA’s microblog feeds, in contrast, are often just official statements broken up and released bit by bit.
I asked a government researcher why all the good advice people like him had offered decision-makers did not seem to have any effect. “A lot of it is filtered out and does not reach people at the very top,” he said. “Besides, the thinking of many decision-makers has ossified and just can’t be changed.”
Seeking advice is always easier than following it. The Chinese state has developed a sophisticated system for collecting information, analysis and policy recommendations. Whether it has made good use of the system is an entirely different matter.
Yiyi Lu, an expert on Chinese civil society, is currently working on a project to promote open government information in China. She is the author of “Non-Governmental Organisations in China: The Rise of Dependent Autonomy” (Routledge 2008).