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Think tanks in East and Southeast Asia

Research report

Written by Ajoy Datta

Research report



Think tanks across the developed and developing world have received considerable attention in recent times with western donors investing in developing country think tanks on a large scale. For instance, five major donors have together committed US$ 110 million to the Think Tank Initiative until 2014. Nevertheless, think tanks are still traditionally seen as a mainly Anglo-American phenomenon, emerging across the developing world in the last few decades. In addition, analyses of think tanks in developing countries have been mainly historical and apolitical.


We took inspiration from the book ‘Think Tanks and Political Parties in Latin America’ by Mendizabal and Sample (2009), which challenged the existing approach to both the research of think tanks and the debate over their definition, to understand think tanks in East and Southeast Asia, placing their origins and development firmly within their political context, both nationally and regionally.


This report presents two factors influencing the politics of East Asia – the politics of power and the politics of production. Using these factors as a lens through which to view politics the report identifies three key political threads: nationalism; the extent of pluralism or liberalisation; and the concentration of power. These political threads have shaped the origin and development of think tanks in three ways: 1) their location relative to the bureaucracy 2) their thematic focus and 3) the political interests they represent.

Karthik Nachiappan, Enrique Mendizabal, Ajoy Datta