With a population of close to 1.35 billion people, land area of 9.7 million square kilometers and 34 divisions that include provinces, municipalities, autonomous regions, special administrative regions and also the claimed Taiwan province, China requires a strong government to ensure harmony and functionality of every aspect of the country. Two of the many interesting and complex phenomena that exist in China are the vertical control and directive from the central government and the horizontal economic and policy cooperation among provinces. This topic is being researched and published by Professor Chung Jae-Ho of the Department of International Relations at Seoul National University, South Korea. Professor Chung presented on the vertical control and horizontal cooperation of Chinese Central and local governments at Singapore Management University (SMU) on February 14, 2014, and Anna Shell Media Press had the privilege of covering his talk.
The main points of his discussion were the dynamic, the implications and opportunities that arise from strong relationships between central and local governments. Historically, the Chinese Central Government has been minimal and less monumental in providing policy and economical guidance and directives to a select few local governments, but in recent years, relationships have shifted where the Central Government connects more with all of its local governments as it accumulates more wealth and consolidates more power. This was evident with the establishment of special economic zones in Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shantou in the Guangdong province, Xiamen in the Fujian Province and Hainan Province since 1980. But as time progresses, many other provinces have been granted similar privileges in order to enjoy the benefits of designated special economic zones. In addition, the local governments also start to establish horizontal relationships among provinces. The benefits of these relationships include special tax benefits and policy treatment by the Central government. But, despite the benefits, there are also downsides to this, mainly the competition for resources and special treatment. According to Professor Chung, after a while, the special economic zone title loses its meaning because everyone is competing to become part of it. More importantly, the implication is positive for businesses and the people of China as a whole. When local governments establish special relationships horizontally with the guidance of the Central Government, businesses can flourish and ultimately bring prosperity to the province and its people.
It was an interesting talk which explored an aspect of China not frequently reported or studied. But the bigger question remains: in the pursuit of economic growth, China has neglected many issues that could potentially make it a great nation. The most pressing issues are human rights and environmental issues. Although China continues to grow its GDP at an average rate of 7% annually, they lack the freedom of speech and expression, and things don’t seem to be getting any better (Although many would argue that they’re not getting any worse). In terms of environmental pollution, the development of many of these provinces caused bad air and water pollution. In addition, the race for resources and development has stripped many areas bare and left many villagers displaced and relocated to concentrated housing areas. We hope that China will realize the work that still needs to be done and get their act together soon.
Report prepared by Boon Hoe Chin