China: Political and institutional effectiveness

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Country Data and Maps
Economist Intelligence Unit
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Politics, Background, Forecast, Political and institutional effectiveness
Political Geography

Political outlook: Political and institutional effectiveness

The CCP leadership is interested in improving governmental effectiveness in order to promote China's economic modernisation, including its transition from an investment-led to a consumption-led growth model. Mr Xi views this objective as best achieved through tightening internal discipline and reducing the power of political elites at local level. This has had the effect of centralising the policymaking process, but at the expense of government transparency and openness. These trends will intensify following the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak in early 2020, which will have convinced Mr Xi of the need for more political centralisation, rather than less.

A party and government restructuring plan unveiled in March 2018 represented the culmination of Mr Xi's efforts to consolidate decision-making within central CCP organs. The restructuring elevated the role of CCP central leading groups, which have already been boosted since Mr Xi came into power. It also makes clearer the subordination of the State Council (headed by Mr Li) and its departments to CCP organisations. A modest separation of party and state organisations has been one of the characteristics of the post-1978 era, but the restructuring plan makes clear Mr Xi's ambition to undo that.

The changes promise tighter and more rigorous enforcement of central CCP edicts. The National Supervisory Commission established in March 2018 has a remit to enforce discipline and punish corruption across the public sector, imitating the role already played by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection within the CCP.

These changes will assist with policy formulation by streamlining and unifying administrative decision making. However, it will have a detrimental impact in the long term. The changes could result in the sacrifice of technical expertise, with a greater priority placed across officialdom on loyalty to Mr Xi and the CCP, which, in turn, could distort feedback mechanisms crucial to understanding effective policy implementation. In general, a more controlled policymaking process will offer less room for debate and experimentation, blunting the willingness to engage in policy innovation. Local governments have been key drivers of policy reform in recent decades, but now have less room to interpret central government policy flexibly.

Mr Xi's government has also toughened controls over the media and civil society in an effort to prevent threats to the CCP's dominance. State media have come under closer supervision by the authorities, while regulations over social media content have also been made stricter. Foreign-funded non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have had tighter restrictions imposed on their activities and the government has clamped down on legal and civil rights activists. These controls have intensified in light of both the coronavirus outbreak in early 2020 and a fresh deterioration in US-China ties, which culminated in the expulsion of a number of foreign journalists. These developments confirm a tightening trend in terms of press freedom. China's leadership has made it clear that it has no intention of allowing the development of a legislative process where different branches of government act as a system of checks and balances. This means that the NPC is likely to remain a rubber-stamp institution.

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