Monday, May 4, 2015

China Sets Up Think Tank in DC to Counter Other Asian Powers

China has set up a new think tank in the Washington, DC-area to counter the influence of other Asian countries at the nearby think tanks.

The new think tank, which is China's first think tank within the Washington Beltway, will reportedly focus on maritime dispute issues in the South China Sea.  Here is more:
The Institute for China-America Studies’ three staff members work from a small office near Ronald Reagan International Airport. Their mission is to research and conduct exchanges on maritime issues and China-U.S. relations, not to represent the Chinese government, according to its executive director, Nong Hong.
But a hurdle for the new Chinese institute is whether it can establish its independence from the Chinese government, which keeps a tight rein on academic institutions and polices research.
At its inaugural conference last month, China’s ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, gave a keynote address defending China’s efforts to build artificial islands in the South China Sea.
Set up in Arlington, Va., in November, the institute is registered as a corporation in the state, pending approval as a nonprofit, Ms. Hong said. She said she isn’t a Communist Party member and the think tank would be free to do research critical of Chinese policy, as long as it fits within its research programs. “We want to be an independent nonprofit organization here,” she said.
The think tank is, however, an offshoot of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, a government-affiliated body, which also employs Ms. Hong and plays a prominent role in promoting China’s views on maritime issues.

The article goes on to question whether the new think tank will need to register as a "foreign agent" under the US Justice Department's Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).  Those acting on behalf of a foreign government for political purposes must register, but the article notes that the think tank was established by the Hainan Nanhai Research Foundation, which is registered in China as a private foundation.  But that foundation was set up by the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, the government-backed organization that also employs Ms. Hong, according to the WSJ.

The Economist has also reported about the new think tank, saying that its Chinese government connections "clearly have pull."  It notes that Henry Kissinger spoke at at ICAS conference held April 16 in Washington, DC, and China's Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai attended that event in person.

The think tank is already looking for bigger offices and plans to add a few more resident fellows in the next few years.  Think Tank Watch noticed that they are now looking for a full-time research fellow.

The new website for ICAS can be found here.  The three staff members are listed here.  The advisory board can be found here.   Its partner institutions can be found here.

The establishment of the new Chinese think tank comes as the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has been using satellite intel to track the Asian islands dispute.  And the governments of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and others have been spending heavily on Washington think tanks to support their agenda.

The establishment also comes as the Chinese government has just announced that it is setting up as many as 100 national-level think tanks to try to replicate the US think tanks model.