Top-level design and local-level paralysis: Local politics in times of political centralisation

M. Stepan, A.L. Ahlers

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China’s leadership under Xi has reinforced the party’s hierarchical command
structures, demonstrated through its top-down campaigns, focusing on austerity,
anti-corruption efforts and party discipline. It has reinvigorated sanctioning
and incentive mechanisms for local cadres, with unknown effects on their
long-term performance and loyalty to the CCP.
Re-centralising the intergovernmental financial system strengthens the overall
steering capacity of the central government temporarily, but does not alleviate
the fiscal stress on local governments. The central government is pushing for
greater market orientation at the local level, resulting, thus far, in short-sighted
solutions that will end up reducing transparency concerning local debt.
Local leaders are abstaining from bold policy moves out of fear of demotion,
exclusion from the party, or legal repercussions. Consequently, subnational
governments have ceased to act as independent actors of policy initiative
and innovation. Policy piloting and experimentation will remain an important
component of the policy process, but will be employed only very selectively
and under the auspices of the central government.
These reconfigurations of central-local relations give the central leadership
more tools to enforce local compliance, and they appear to be effective in the
short term. But they will suffocate subnational policy initiative, ultimately
undermining the adaptive capacity of the Chinese state.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChina’s core executive Leadership styles, structures and processes under Xi Jinping
EditorsS. Heilmann, M. Stepan
Place of PublicationBerlin
PublisherMercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS)
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)ISSN (Online): 2509-5862
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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