Tang Institute Q&A: Creating a Better Understanding of How China Works

The Tang Institute was formed more than ten years ago to deepen America’s understanding about China’s economic development and foreign relations practices. Since then, studies funded by the institute have resulted in both countries gaining a better understanding of how China operates. Project topics are selected to anticipate future trends and topics of interest that will have real-life impact on U.S.-China relations.

Below, Rafiq Dossani, director of the RAND Center for Asia Pacific Policy, a senior economist at the RAND Corporation, and a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School, discusses the Tang Institute’s true impact over time.

What makes the Tang Institute unique?

When it was founded in 2007, the Tang Institute identified China’s economic development and its relationship with its neighbors as key determinants of China’s future importance. At the time, it seemed like an unusual decision. China was then firmly focused on economic growth and had positive relations with almost all its neighbors. Hence, studying development with the additional component of how it would affect international relations was a rare topic among China studies scholars.

Today, this issue is commonly identified as having been both the story of China’s success and a challenge for the future. The Tang Institute anticipated this situation and helped build a body of RAND research over the past decade that created an understanding of this situation.

In what ways do you think the Tang Institute will have a lasting impact on U.S.-China relations?

The perspective that the founders had for the Tang Institute, which RAND accepted, was that a better understanding of China would help policymakers in China and the United States improve relations with each other.

The Tang Institute has supported research on China’s infrastructure, health care, national security, and more. Much of our research compares China’s approaches to public policy to best practices around the world. As a result, the world, including the United States, now has a better sense of how China works. For the Chinese, there have also been learnings from RAND’s comparative analyses. An important side benefit is that, along the way, the work of the Tang Institute has helped raised the respect for RAND among Chinese policymakers.

Why is it important to invest in China-related research?

It is important because China is the world’s second largest economy and a rising military power. The United States and the world should strive to understand China for this reason alone. Further, the Chinese model of security and development is unique and successful. It is different from how the United States functions. It has its own strengths and weaknesses. Learning about these is important if the United States is to build a stable long-term relationship with China.

For example, we still do not know what has made China into such a successful manufacturer. Until this is sufficiently understood, we will not have good insight into the sources of its competitivity. Or, how is its defense system organized? We know very little about that. For the United States, these are questions of vital importance. .

How does CAPP approach Tang Institute-supported research differently than other projects?

Tang Institute-supported research meets the same, rigorous standards of all RAND research. The Tang Institute, however, gives CAPP the flexibility to select research themes that anticipate future trends. For example, in 2017 and 2018, CAPP adopted the theme of regional integration in Asia. We used funding from the Tang Institute and other sources to study the expansion of business networks from China into the rest of Asia and the sustainability of development in the countries along the Belt and Road Initiative.

We expect these to become large projects that many RAND researchers will study in the future. In 2019, we will use Tang Institute and other CAPP funding to study the domestic processes of decision-making in key areas of public policy across Asia. For example, we want to know how interests in health policy play out in making public policy in China, Japan, Korea, and other East Asian countries.

What are your future or long-term goals for the Tang Institute?

We expect the Tang Institute to play a leading role in developing China policy studies at RAND. In 2018, RAND launched the Tang Chair in China Policy Studies. The Chair has been funded by a generous gift made in 2017 by the Tang Foundation (which also funded the Tang Institute). The Chair, which will reside within the Tang Institute, will develop and manage a research agenda on China’s policies for sustainable growth in education and health care, build partnerships with research institutes in China, and mentor China studies scholars at RAND. These constitute our long-term goals for the Tang Institute.