In the West, views and researches by reputable think tanks have been upgraded to policies and approaches. Quite a few think tanks have that kind of privileges in this part of the region.
In Southeast Asia, the situation is a mixed one. Within the Asean region, there are altogether 165 think tanks. Indonesia has the largest numbers with 31, followed by Malaysia with 23, the Philippines 21, Singapore with 18, Thailand 15, Cambodia 14, Vietnam 11, Myanmar 7 and Laos 4.
It is interesting to note that Thailand, which has a population of 67 million people with the second largest economy in Asean, has a small number of think tanks than Singapore. The island nation with just 5.6 million people has 18 local think tanks which are competing with one another to gain respect and recognition from local and foreign politic-makers around the world.
At the global level, the US still dominates the global thinktanks with both the quality and quantity. It has a total number of 1871 think tanks throughout all states. For the past several years, the Brookings Institute located in Washington DC has dominated the No. 1 list of all think tanks. In the second place is India which has 509 think tanks followed by China with 507. Both India and China have large numbers of think tanks to deal with strategic and developmental issues. Each year, these institutions produce numerous researches.
According to experts, think tanks are public-policy research analysis and engagement organizations that generate policy-oriented research, analysis, and advice on domestic and international issues so that policy makers and the public can make informed decisions. Think tanks may be affiliated or independent institutions that are structured as permanent bodies, not ad hoc commissions.
In most cases, they often act as a bridge between the academic and policymaking communities and between states and civil society to come out with better policies and could be easily understood.
Unlike the rest of the world, Thailand does not have a tradition as in the West of using a think-tank because the government has largely relied on bureaucrats to do the thinking and planning. It also reflects the nature of political system in Thailand that gives lesser importance to the public voices. Indeed, it is sometimes hard for the bureaucrats who have spent their whole life working in various government positions or fields to welcome outside inputs. Now, Thailand is quite more open than before.
Thailand Development and Research Institute is the most well-known Thai think tank, ranking 12, due to its major issues of researches—economic and developmental issues. In the past several years, economic slowdown and changing patterns of global value-chains has transformed the TDRI as a popular think tank. Ranking at 31th is Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Security and International Studies. Thailand’s ISIS has been able to compete with other Asean think tanks only in the past several years under the leadership of Asst Prof Thitinant Pongsuthirak. He has pushed ISIS to the Asean’s forefront of think tanks. A prolific writer an analysist, his publication of articles and essays have upgrade the annual assessment.
Indonesia and Singapore have found outputs from their own think tanks as useful for public policies. In Indonesia, Center for Security and international Studies (CSIS), has dominated the thinking of previous governments. However, under the current leader, President Joko Widodo, he also relies on religious-affiliated think tank. As the world’s largest Muslim nation, Indonesia has to deal with quite sensitive issues such as radicalization of Muslim communities in various parts of Indonesia, returning extremists from the Middle East, among others.
Singapore’s think tanks are the region’s best dwelling on regional and global issues especially the areas that would impact on the future of Lion City. Singapore Institute of international Studies ranks No. 1 in Asia because it has organized regular seminars, tweets and published articles, Its director, Prof Simon Tay, is an outward looking scholar with academic networks throughout the region.
All in all, it is about time that Thailand invests in good think tanks so that they can provide independent views and alternative approaches to problem solving. The change of mind set can only happen with a decision on authorities concerned which have so far put too much faith on bureaucrats and state-owned research institute.