think tanks

When it comes to the opinion-makers and experts we listen to on matters of foreign policy, it's neither new nor enough to ask: where are the women? We also have to ask where they aren't.We need not go very far for an answer: The Washington Post recently compiled data from events hosted by six leading think tanks in Washington, DC. They found that not a single woman spoke at more than 150 events on the Middle East. Of the 232 total events included in the Post's data set, fewer than 25 percent of the speakers were women.

Echoing President Xi Jinping's call for a new type of Chinese think tank, the general offices of the party Central Committee and the State Council recently announced a plan to develop 50 to 100 "high-end" ones by 2020, which, they said, would compete with America in spreading soft power abroad and help refine policies at home.

China is often portrayed as a giant in the hard-power leagues of the economy, technology and the military. But when it comes to the country's soft power, China watchers have little optimism. As some analysts have pointed out that soft power is all in the mind, think tanks are important as a deliverer of soft power as they convey ideas.

In calling for a new type of Chinese think tank, President Xi Jinping wants institutions that can compete with American ones in spreading soft power abroad and help refine policies at home, analysts say.

More than a dozen prominent Washington research groups have received tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments in recent years while pushing United States government officials to adopt policies that often reflect the donors’ priorities, an investigation by The New York Times has found. The money is increasingly transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying in Washington. 

Yu Hyun-seok, president of the Korea Foundation, deplores the reality of Korean public diplomacy, citing the government’s lack of recognition in the importance of and investment in U.S. think tanks that have growing significance. 

The event is part of a project, ID100, bringing together key academics, think tanks, NGOs, international bodies and the general public to address the world’s biggest environmental, political and socioeconomic problems. The project is being led by researchers from the University’s Sheffield Institute for International Development (SIID).

In his 2009 book, “The Next 100 Years,” George Friedman, the founder of Stratfor, wrote that by the end of the century Mexico will be the main power challenging the U.S. With $500 billion in trade with the U.S. (up from $75 billion two decades ago), with Mexicans spending twice as much on U.S. products as the Chinese, with over 33 million U.S. residents of Mexican origin, with the most frequently crossed international border in the world, it would be irresponsible to wait until the end of the century to pay attention to Mexico.