Kenya seminar calls for closer ties between Chinese, African think tanks

By CHEN MIRONG / 03-21-2017 / (Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Wang Weiguang (L), president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, signs an agreement with Peter Kagwanja, president of Africa Policy Institute on March. 10 during a Kenya seminar on soft power capacity.

NAIROBI--Think tanks were singled out as the major component of a nation’s soft power at a recent forum in Kenya, where scholars called for closer cooperation between Chinese and African brain trusts.

The Seminar on Investing in Soft Power Capacity: China-Africa Think Tank Cooperation took place in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, on March 10. Jointly organized by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and the Nairobi-based Africa Policy Institute (API), it gathered more than 30 scholars from China and such African countries as Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania.

In his keynote speech, CASS President Wang Weiguang said think tanks are an important aspect of a nation’s soft power. “Independent from authorities, they observe and think rationally about various issues of governance, using professional and scientific methods to solve problems and offer advice. They are thus an indispensable part of modern state governance.” 

Since the 1980s, think tanks have sprung up across the world, including in China and African countries. There are more than 400 think tanks in China and more than 600 in African countries, while in the world there are a total of more than 6,800.

“Many think tanks have played a positive role in advancing the development of China and Africa as well as friendly China-Africa cooperation,” Wang said.

In recent years, China-Africa relations have developed rapidly.     

In December 2015, the FOCAC Johannesburg summit lifted the China-Africa relationship to the level of a comprehensive strategic partnership. Wang said that “the transition and upgrading of China-Africa cooperation will definitely play an important role for the think tanks of both sides by providing lots of opportunities and opening a broader horizon.

In addition, Wang also put forward five suggestions for cooperation between Chinese and African think tanks, including translating Chinese President Xi Jinping’s diplomatic ideas, such as “China-Africa community of shared destiny,” into feasible policy measures, connecting the“Belt and Road” initiative to related development strategies of African countries, and deepening collaboration in industrialization to achieve common development.

Peter Kagwanja, president of the API, said at the seminar that think tanks can be viewed in three ways. “First, think tanks today represent a major soft power capacity of a country,” he said, adding that Chinese think tanks have a long way to go to project the intellectual power of China, possessing ability to persuade and change minds “without using a bullet.”


On the other side, however, Africa has an even higher responsibility to build think tanks, because it has a smaller number of think tanks and hence limited think tank power and clear policies, Kagwanja said.

Kagwanja raised the concern that the world is gradually moving towards isolationism and negative nationalism, as it is increasingly polarized by populism, particularly with the rise of US President Donald Trump.

In this regard, think tanks can facilitate meaningful dialogues between civilizations, Kagwanja said, noting that dialogues emphasizing peace, coexistence, mutual respect and honor will help bring about an equitable and prosperous world order.

Think tanks will be the driver of developmental peace in Africa and also in the Global South, said Kagwanja.

“In the last 10 years, economists have talked about Africa as a dying continent, a continent that is not worth looking at and economized,” Kagwanja said. “[Through] 10 years of China-Africa engagements, the continent is now one of the fastest-growing regions of the world in economic terms and social terms.” Think tanks are needed to safeguard the development achievements, he added.

Chinese ambassador to Kenya Liu Xianfa called on Chinese and African scholars to accurately grasp the pulse of the times, and strengthen the innovation of the theory of peaceful development to better serve the development of China-Africa relations.

“We hope that Chinese and African scholars will study the new ideas, policies and initiatives put forward by President Xi Jinping and African leaders to provide theoretical guidance and intellectual support for China-Africa cooperation,” he said.

Also, Liu said he hopes Chinese and African scholars will work together to tell the true stories of China and Africa, letting the “China-African chorus” be heard all over the world.


Chen Mirong is a reporter at the Chinese Social Sciences Today.