November 18, 2005

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It's not easy being Beijing

What's the point in being the rulers of an authoritarian society if even your own cadres won't listen to you? The SCMP:

Steps must be taken to strengthen central government power because Beijing's policies and decrees are increasingly being ignored by local authorities, a state-run newspaper warned yesterday. In a signed article headlined "Why the central government's decrees cannot reach outside Zhongnanhai", the China Youth Daily said action had to be taken to promote the central government's legal authority and to stop widespread disregard for its policies...In theory, the mainland is one of few highly centralised places in the world. But in practice, regionalism has run wild following two decades of market-oriented reform, analysts say...another example was local-level distortion or dismissal of the central government's macroeconomic policies.

But it said the most obvious example was the widespread failure of local governments to follow central government orders to improve safety in coal mines and to close unsafe operations.

Analysts have suggested that economic growth and its accompanying disparities among mainland regions - along with diversification of political, cultural, and social life - have driven the country's political decentralisation.

Mo Jihong, a constitutional law expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Law, said the article could mean the central government would get tough on regionalism...promoting the rule of law and judicial independence were the solutions to widespread malpractices...The China Youth Daily article cited several reasons behind the widespread malpractices, but added that the most fundamental one was the backward nature of the legal system.

The only other problem is trying to fight hundreds or even thousands of years of culture and political history. Today's system effectively micmicks the "tribute" system of imperial times. Nationalisation and centralisation is a relatively novel concept - Mao tried it with disasterous effects. Since Mao's death the country has largely reverted to provincial and regional power bases with lip-service paid to Beijing as necessary.

Anyway, hasn't Beijing heard of subsidiarity: the idea that matters should be handled by the smallest (or, the lowest) competent authority. Oh hang on, it says competent.

posted by Simon on 11.18.05 at 06:03 PM in the China politics category.


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