Think tanks empower high-quality GBA development

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2023-06-08

The Greater Bay Area Science Forum was held in May, 2023 in Nansha District, Guangzhou City. Photo: CFP

The development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA) is of great significance in steadily expanding institutional openness, enriching the practice of the “One Country, Two Systems (hereafter referred to as OCTS)” policy, promoting regional coordinated development, and addressing global challenges and uncertainties. Developing a world-class bay area requires substantial intellectual support from think tanks. The New York Bay Area, San Francisco Bay Area, and Tokyo Bay Area are examples of regions where think tanks have played a crucial role in regional planning, development strategy formulation and adjustment, conducting investigations and research on local economic and social aspects, and providing solutions to issues related to economic growth and regional governance.

Amid changes in the global economic landscape, we strive to build the GBA into a global hub for scientific and industrial innovation, a high-level gateway for opening-up, an internationally renowned bay area, and a world-class urban agglomeration. This endeavor requires the pooled wisdom of think tanks in the three key areas. With the deepening integration of the GBA, it is imperative to accelerate the establishment of a collaborative community of think tanks in these places. This not only contributes to improving China’s distinctive think tank system, but also harnesses the collective strength of multiple stakeholders to provide solid intellectual support for the high-quality development of the GBA. 

Solid foundation for collaboration

Since the reform and opening-up, and particularly following the return of Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions (SARs) to China, think tanks in Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao have flourished within the framework of OCTS. A development pattern has emerged, encompassing think tanks of political parties and government, university think tanks, media think tanks, and social think tanks. Guangdong think tanks, with a strong foundation in the forefront of reform and opening-up, have experienced early and rapid development. They have conducted long-term, comprehensive, strategic, and systematic research on various new situations and issues in the province’s economy and the country’s progress of opening-up. They have also been dedicated to promoting GBA cooperation, making contributions to the theory and practice of openness, as well as providing consultancy and recommendations for major government decisions, thereby offering intellectual support for socio-economic development.

Hong Kong think tanks have focused on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the construction of the GBA. Through extensive social surveys and visits, they have explored key issues such as Hong Kong’s long-term competitiveness, economic development, and societal well-being. They have communicated and cooperated with various parties through policy research and seminars, aiming to ensure that political decisions and public policy decisions align with the actual situation in Hong Kong. From the perspective of maintaining long-term prosperity and stability in Hong Kong, they strive to integrate the region into the overall national development, enhancing its role as a “super-connector.” 

Macao think tanks have assisted the Macao SAR government in addressing challenges related to economic downturns and public sentiment prior to its return. They have continuously enriched and developed the practice of OCTS, serving as a bridge for economic and trade exchanges, external cooperation, and cultural exchanges. Additionally, the think tanks have leveraged the SAR’s advantages as a “Center, Platform, and Base.” Macao think tanks have developed expertise in regional studies focusing on Portuguese-speaking countries within the BRI framework. They have also conducted research on Macao’s local context, producing distinctive research achievements in these areas.

In Feb 2019, the “Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area” was issued, which explicitly stated the need “to support think tanks on the Mainland to step up cooperation with those in Hong Kong and Macao, and provide intellectual support for the development of the Greater Bay Area.” In June of the same year, representatives from think tanks in the GBA signed a framework agreement in Guangzhou, initiating the establishment of the GBA Think Tank Alliance. This marked a transition from independent development to regional coordinated development for think tanks in the GBA. 

In scientific research collaboration, various institutions have entered into cooperation agreements to promote the joint development and sharing of resources. They have established joint research teams or collaborative research groups to conduct studies related to GBA development. These efforts have resulted in the production and publication of blue papers, evaluation indices, and other research outcomes.

Regarding talent cultivation, key initiatives include joint training of students, establishment of postdoctoral workstations, development of campuses and internship bases, and student exchange and faculty sharing. These endeavors aim to provide think tanks with a constant influx of talented individuals with multidisciplinary and quality skill sets. 

In terms of academic exchange, activities such as the South Think Tank Forum and the GBA Think Tank Forum are organized, showcasing their high degree of influence. The number of visits and research exchanges between institutions has also been increasing. In the realm of collaborative communication, mainstream media outlets in the GBA have shown their enthusiasm for establishing think tanks. They have actively leveraged their advantage in integrating and disseminating information resources, enhancing their capabilities in ideation, strategic analysis, and providing policy solutions. They have become interpreters, communicators, and creators of think tank ideas.

The pursuit of high-quality GBA development presents a series of new requirements. As we embark on a new journey towards the second centenary goals, the construction of the GBA faces new opportunities and challenges, and think tanks in the three regions are tasked with new missions. These include promoting the area’s leading and exemplary role in high-quality development, building a high-level gateway for opening up to the outside world, exploring pathways and accumulating experiences for constructing a high-level open economic system nationwide, utilizing major cooperative platforms, fully leveraging the open advantages of the region, achieving synergistic effects of advantages, maintaining long-term prosperity and stability in Hong Kong and Macao SARs under the framework of OCTS, and addressing issues such as regional development imbalances. It is necessary for think tanks in the three regions to closely align with national strategic deployment and the development plan for the area, further consolidate consensus, clarify common goals, focus on real-world issues, and explore paths of cooperation. 

A community of GBA think tanks

The think tank community features cluster development and collaborative growth. It relies on the disciplinary expertise and talent aggregation of each think tank, with a focus on national, regional, and industry development strategies and real-world issues.

By integrating basic and applied research, the community engages in cross-institutional and interdisciplinary activities such as policy consultation, social surveys, talent cultivation, and public opinion guidance. This represents a new stage and form of high-quality development for think tanks. Looking forward, these think tanks can leverage their geographical advantages, foster consensus, strengthen value identification, and promote openness, sharing, and connectivity through various measures in multiple domains. The following aspects can be emphasized to expedite the construction of the think tank community and enhance the development capacity of the GBA. 

First, we need to establish a clear common strategic vision. The construction of the community should be aimed at serving the high-quality development of the GBA, with the common goal of creating a cluster of internationally competitive think tanks. The key focus is on building an international science and technology innovation center and a comprehensive national science center. We must seize the opportunities presented by the BRI and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership to expand institutional openness, deepen cultural exchanges with the world, continue in-depth research, and engage in high-level planning to advance the new stage GBA development.

We need to establish a collaborative research community in the GBA, refine the alliances in various fields, and leverage the advantages of geographical connectivity and establish GBA think tank cooperation institutions or branch institutions of national high-end think tanks in districts such as Hengqin, Qianhai, and Nansha, with a focus on global engagement, openness and diversity. We can establish a think tank expert committee and establish a normalized mechanism for coordination and dialogue through activities such as joint meetings, forums, and thematic seminars. We should advocate for the establishment of GBA think tank development funds by the governments of the three regions. We should also establish a government procurement system for decision-making consulting services and a cross-border allocation mechanism for research funding, both tailored to the features of the GBA. These efforts will generate more achievements, laying an intellectual and organizational foundation for optimizing the consultancy structure of the area. 

Next, building a community of scientific research talents is crucial. We should seize the opportunity of piloting the endorsement policy for talent exchange between cities in the GBA, as we facilitate talent exchange channels and accelerate the formation of a “revolving door” for talents within the GBA think tank community. This will create a flexible think tank team and promote an orderly flow between scholars, officials, and entrepreneurs, efficiently allocating intellectual resources. Meanwhile, we should establish an expert talent database with the goal of accurately matching the decision-making needs of the area with appropriate resources. By strengthening the integration of resources among different types of think tanks, we can establish a diversified talent cultivation environment through joint programs, faculty training, internships, credit recognition, and curriculum alignment across regions and institutions.

We also need to build an information and intelligence community. We should increase investment in the digitization and informatization of think tanks, utilizing technologies such as big data, cloud computing, and AI to advance the development of a digital think tank in the area. This includes establishing innovative platforms for research collaboration, specialized thematic databases, and case study databases. By leveraging emerging technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing, web scraping, simulation modeling, and data visualization, we can expand the accessibility of research methods for decision-making studies, thereby improving the effectiveness of policy recommendations, guidance, and evaluations. We need to promote the open sharing of literature, information, and database resources among think tank members, while exploring cooperation paths such as data exchanges, internal sharing, paid transactions, and customized knowledge. This will help reduce data circulation time and decision-making wait times. 

Last, we should build an external communication community. We should help the GBA go global by establishing overseas research bases or branches. It is important to establish close connections with international think tanks, especially those in New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, and other bay areas. Through collaboration, we can conduct research projects, participate in international rule consultation and demonstration, and organize events such as result releases, forums, and seminars, thereby enhancing the international community’s understanding and research on the GBA. Think tanks in the region should act as as “super connectors” and work together with Guangdong think tanks to carry out integrated overseas communication. This can be achieved by establishing new media platforms targeting overseas audiences and expanding the breadth and depth of dissemination for think tank products from the area through multilingual and multi-channel approaches.


Zhao Hengyu is from the Institute of International Affiars at Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences.




Editor:Yu Hui

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