Beijing kicked off a three-day Global Think Tank Summit on Wednesday evening, to showcase its newly established 'super think tank' - the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE). The event, organised by the CCIEE, attracted a star-studded list of speakers including former European Commission president Romano Prodi, former United States secretary of state Henry Kissinger, secretary-general for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Supachai Panitchpakdi, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, and senior officials from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and oil-producers' cartel Opec. Present and former central government officials also spoke, including Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, Central Bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan and Minister of Commerce Chen Deming. Hundreds of diplomats, academics, businessmen and think-tank representatives from around the world attended and Premier Wen Jiabao hosted guests at Zhongnanhai, the central government compound, on Wednesday evening. However, to China watchers, the significance of the summit lies beyond the calibre and number of attendees, or what was discussed. The CCIEE's announced goal on its establishment in March of becoming a world-class think tank with clout similar to the Brookings Institution in the United States created a buzz worldwide. Former vice-premier Zeng Peiyan heads the centre and it boasts a panel of vice-directors and advisers that includes some of the country's top economic and financial policy makers and industry moguls. Several Hong Kong names are on the list, including Chinese University of Hong Kong vice-chancellor Lawrence Lau Juen-yee and Li & Fung Group chairman Victor Fung Kwok-king. CCIEE permanent vice-chairman Zheng Xinli was quoted by the People's Daily official newspaper as saying that 'for years China lacked a non-official communication channel between domestic and international think tanks, and we are in urgent need of building this new public relations channel to build China's soft power, and to exert our voice internationally'. China has about 2,000 think tanks according to official statistics, but many are government-affiliated. CCIEE is to differ from those by being financially independent - apart from 5 million yuan (HK$5.67 million) seed money injected by the Ministry of Finance. It is to generate all its own operating costs and research monies from membership fees and an investment fund. According to Mr Zheng, the CCIEE would have its own research team but would rely heavily on contributions from domestic think tanks through an open bidding system. Lau Siu-kai, head of Hong Kong's Central Policy Unit and a permanent CCIEE committee member, said the think tank could boost China's influence at a time when the world was at a crossroads. Professor Lau said China should develop strategies and goals to win respect for not only its economic and military strength but also the values it represented. Tsinghua University professor Deng Guosheng , who specialises in NGO research, said the mainland was still a long way from producing a world-class think tank. 'CCIEE is still largely government-backed,' Professor Deng said. 'It no doubt is a step in the right direction, but for China to produce a world-class think tank, there must be more than one good think tank in the country.'