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Central-local relations: Explaining trends through processes. Linda Chelan Li City University of Hong Kong HKPSA Conference 2009. Outline. Trends of developments in C-L relations over 60 years: main features and characteristics

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central local relations explaining trends through processes

Central-local relations:Explaining trends through processes

Linda Chelan Li

City University of Hong Kong

HKPSA Conference 2009

  • Trends of developments in C-L relations over 60 years: main features and characteristics
  • Changing trajectories as outcome of a confluence of co-evolving processes; with pluralist actors, contingencies, and unintended consequences
persistent salience
Persistent salience

A chronology of major events in pol system changes of PRC: c-l relations as one of the 8 level-1 categories in the Index

  • Party leadership system
  • State administrative system (NPC/demo parties/judiciary, etc.)
  • Govt administrative system (adm mgt)
  • Military
  • Cadre personnel system
  • Central-local jurisdiction demarcation
  • Speeches of party/state leaders
  • others
persistent salience1
Persistent salience
  • Liu (2008) 23 counts of calls for adjustment in c-l relations are found in govt reports submitted to NPC during 30 years of 1978-2007.
  • 2008 ‘mega-ministry’ administrative reform: ‘perfecting a (adm) system in which the fiscal capacity and expenditure responsibilities of govts of various tiers are aligned’.
trends 3 phases
Trends: 3 phases
  • 1950s-1980s: cycles of centralization and decentralization
  • 1980s-1990s: state and market, adjusting roles
  • 2000s: demarcating responsibilities over public service provision
centralization decentralization
  • Type 1 (economic) decentralization: from govt (central branch agencies) to enterprises
  • Type 2 (administrative) decentralization: from central branch agencies to local govts
  • Predominance of Type 2 after 1957
  • Cycles of decentralization and recentralizations: diminishing returns of repeated recentralizations
adm decentralization in 1980s
Adm decentralization in 1980s
  • Fiscal federalism or federalism, Chinese style
  • Domestic debates over the relative merits of adm vs econ decentralization in the context of reform in 1980s: differing assessments in literature
state market 1980s 90s
State-market (1980s-90s)
  • Post-Mao (Dengist) economic reform focused on ‘freeing up’ the enterprises from govt control and development of the market
  • Long gestation: ‘socialist market economy’ coined and legitimated only in 1993
  • Much expansion of the market during the1980s was NOT attributable to a coherent national policy to promote type 1 decentralization, but was an unintended consequence of administrative decentralization which was still the prevalent form of decentralization
adm and econ decentralization interactions
Adm and econ decentralization: interactions
  • local govts with enhanced delegated powers were keen on fostering the market in order to protect itself from its adm superiors.

Guangdong and Zhejiang govts in the 1980s

  • Role of adm decentralization in a market-oriented reform process?
  • The transition of c-l politics from one over resource allocation to one over jurisdiction – power to regulate
  • 1994 fiscal (tax-sharing) reform: old or new c-l politics?
responsibility over public service provision 2000s
Responsibility over public service provision (2000s-)
  • Market-oriented reform demands a redefinition of state roles – provider of public goods [market failure]
  • 1998 ‘public finance’ discourse
  • Increased attention on filling the services deficit: financing; management; regulation
  • Which level of govt to be responsible for each and every specific service
processes underlining the c l trajectory






Centralization decentralization cycles


Developmental efficiency

Political survival / career advancement

State (plan)



National integration state building




Processes underlining the c-l trajectory
national integration and state building
National integration and state-building
  • A recurrent theme from early 1950s
  • 1950s: structural changes [establishment and abolition of the Regional Govts 1949-1954]; ferocious purges of individual ‘localist’ leaders
  • 1980s: economic ‘fiefdoms’ rekindled the fear for national disintegration and threatened central authority
  • 1990s onwards: state building as new focus – e.g. fiscal management rationalization reforms
  • Huang (2008): 1990s reforms as recentralization
developmental efficiency
Developmental efficiency
  • Starting point: a high degree of centralization in 2 dimensions is necessary for developmental efficiency
  • Between central and local levels of govt
  • Between state and the society
  • A perceived need to adjust the centralization balance at times: ideological constraints against decentralization of state to society before economic reform resulted in a reliance on Type 2 decentralization for invigorating a second source of enthusiasm.
political survival career advancement
Political survival, career advancement
  • Landry (2008): decentralized authoritarianism: central govt able to maintain an upper hand over localities thro’ powers to hire, promote, and fire.
  • Zhou (2008): local authorities led into tournaments by the centre who monopolized the power to define objectives and lay out incentives and penalties
  • How useful are these beyond a rebuttal of the disintegration/popular participation thesis?
  • Nomenclatura control as last resort or a major instrument of central control to solicit local compliance?
the c l puzzle in the eyes of the chinese players
The c-l puzzle in the eyes of the Chinese players…
  • Within China there is high consensus over the superiority of central power over local authorities.
  • The burning puzzle in China is how to adjust the central-local power balance and division of duties to best serve the needs of state building, efficiency, etc…
  • A question that cannot be answered by the emphasis on central personnel powers.
external influences
External Influences
  • Soviet influences (type 1 and 2 decentralizations)
  • Western influences since 1980s

-- generalized adoption or selective (active) learning?

- how to identify existence of learning? [Does assemblance nec imply learning? Does lack of it nec imply absence of learning?]

thoughts what happened and future trends
Thoughts: What happened, and future trends
  • Cyclical movements still operating? 1990s recentralizing, 1980s decentralizing?
  • shifting grounds of adm decentralization, due to changes in state-market relations since 1980s
  • Indicator: increased specificity in the adm decentralization discourse since late 1990s; local lobbying for institutionalized powers rather than a larger share of resource allocation
  • Domestic-external processes: close up look into learning processes required