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Thinking Outside the Box for India’s Think Tanks

What can China’s policy researchers teach their Indian counterparts?

February 28, 2016

What can China’s policy researchers teach their Indian counterparts?

Like other Asian countries, India has witnessed an increase in think tanks in recent years.

The private sector has taken the lead in funding some of these. Prominent think tanks which have received private sector support are the Observer Foundation (New Delhi), Gateway House (Mumbai) and the Ananta Aspen Center (New Delhi). The goal is to produce quality research that can influence the government on key issues.

India as a whole, and its think tanks in particular, also need to strengthen intellectual dialogue with important countries.

Non-governmental think tanks, especially ORF, have begun to raise their voices on important international issues such as climate change and energy.

Others are also speaking out on security issues and being pro-active in organizing security dialogues with other countries, including France, Israel, the United States and Japan.

Learning from China

While the model for Indian think tanks has generally been the U.S. model, there is growing attention to the model offered by Chinese think tanks.

This makes a great deal of sense. Indian and Chinese think tanks have been cooperating in a number of areas, promoting secondary channel dialogues between both countries.

There are also operational lessons Indian think tanks can learn from Chinese think tanks, beyond the content of these discussions, that they cannot learn from a U.S. model that is geared toward a much smaller population.

The biggest lesson from China for India is to decentralize beyond the national capital. China has done reasonably well in this regard. While top think tanks are located in Beijing and Shanghai, there are a number of think tanks located in other cities.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) has regional centers, including in Kunming, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Hefei.

India’s states are beginning to play an important role in the country’s foreign policy and diplomacy, as well as in India’s growth story.

Going beyond Delhi

It is therefore more important than ever for think tanks covering economic, strategic and environmental issues to open centers outside of New Delhi, in state capitals around the country.

While some think tanks like the Observer Research Foundation have centers in other cities, and Gateway House is located in Mumbai, a very limited number of Indian think tanks is located outside the national capital.

India’s private sector and business lobbies that have interest in strengthening ties with South East Asia could do more to fund think tanks in North-Eastern India, for example.

These think tanks would provide in-depth research on India’s inter-governmental and economic relationships to the neighboring region, looking at these issues from a holistic angle.

India’s think tanks have been able to learn some valuable lessons on the decentralization issue already, via cooperation with Chinese think tanks.

On important issues like the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Corridor, Yunnan Academy in China has played a positive role in promoting dialogue with Indian think tanks outside of New Delhi.

Need for regional centers

This includes, for example, the Centre for Studies in International Relations and Development, based in Kolkata. These two organizations, in China and India, have in fact strengthened the Kunming-Kolkata (K2K) dialogue.

Increasing interaction between Indians and Chinese is likely – especially with the commencement of dialogue between Chief Ministers of Indian states and Chinese provinces – as is an overall increase in both the economic and people-to-people relationship.

There is likely to be a shift away from the national capitals, and it is important to build relationships between think tanks that understand these dynamics.

In conclusion, India should seek to learn not just from U.S. think-tanks, but also from premiere Chinese think-tanks that have understood the need to have regional centers.


Non-governmental Indian think tanks are speaking out on international issues like climate & energy.

It is more important than ever for India’s policy think tanks to open centers outside of New Delhi.

India’s private sector & business lobbies have interest in strengthening ties with South East Asia.

More interaction between Indians & Chinese is likely as state & province officials begin dialogue.