Li Keqiang takes on the Aparatchiks

“In some cases after the senior leaders study an issue for over a year it takes another year to get the implementation procedures settled. Isn’t this ridiculous?” Mr. Li was quoted as saying.

“Before we can simplify administrative procedures and delegate authority to lower levels of government, we really need a revolution in our own thinking,” he reportedly added.

via China’s Levels of Bureaucracy Have Gotten ‘Ridiculous,’ Premier Says – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

As skeptical as I am about the ability of a one man to alter a governance model that has been in place since well before Beijing became the Imperial capital, I hope he succeeds. But I am not optimistic.

The problems of China’s bureaucracy are not unlike those that governments face elsewhere: corruption, careerism, and the promotion of the mediocre. Those call for more than simple spankings and token firings. They demand a systemic overhaul.

When Li creates a system that recognizes, rewards, and promotes public servants who are clean, dedicated, and effective and shitcans everyone else, he will have fixed the problem. Anything short of that is so much political theater.

Understanding “Tao Guang Yang Hui”

A phrase that is making the rounds among China watchers is “tao guang yang hui.” I will not attempt to explain the concept: any brief explanation would hide too many nuances, and nuances are important here. I just watched an online debate amongst some of my more scholarly friends, and the battle was about different interpreteations of of the phrase.

One interpretation of the phrase is captured in Deng Xiaoping’s maxim “keep a low profile and bide your time, while also getting something accomplished.” Given the noises China has been making in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Indian frontier, and Hong Kong, it appears to some that China has abandoned the tao guang yang hui strategy altogether.

Others, however, suggest that the strategy was not abandoned, but that Deng’s intention all along was to wait for a time when China was ready to assert itself in the global sphere, not simply lay low forever.

Yang Wenchang, President of the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, offers his interpretation in “My Views about ‘Tao Guang Yang Hui.” It is a worthwhile read, and an important one: not only does he provide an erudite explanation of the idom’s roots, his interpretation of the phrase seems to be at odds with China’s current foreign policy.

The entire debate may seem a petty tempest among the cognoscienti. If China is becoming more assertive globally, what does it matter whether this is Xi’s own policy or a continuation of the past?

In truth, it does matter: the answer to the question of whether this is part of a long-standing plan or whether this is Xi rejecting Dengist strategy would help us better predict where China is likely to jump next. We are unlikely to get clarification from the leadership compound at Zhongnanhai: Xi will want to seem unpredictable so as to keep his percieved opponents, both at home and abroad, guessing as to his intentions, leaving him with the initiative. Hence a better understanding of his strategic approach is essential to ensure that Asia and the west are not caught unawares by China’s next Great Leap Outwards.

 

To Fix China, Fix Her Cities

“The Urbanization Solution”
Lu Mai
Government Designed for New Times
McKinsey & Co.

2012

China is on the back end of the largest and most rapid urbanization in the history of mankind. In the past 30 years, the nation’s population has gone from being 80% rural to over 60% urban. Lu Mai, Secretary General of the China Development Research Foundation and an expert on rural affairs, pens a forthright essay saying that China should stay the course: the more people you move to the cities, the more manageable China’s problems will be.

At the same time, Lu doesn’t want forced relocations. The market is the best mechanism to drive the process, he says. The appropriate role for the government is to serve as an enabler, making the process of integration into the cities as smooth as possible, and ensuring that migrants are provided the necessary services and statuses to make their shift from the countryside as smooth as possible.

Lu is wise enough not to call for the outright elimination of China’s hukou household registration system. Doing so would touch politically sensitive nerves, come across as slightly wild-eyed, and anyway would miss the point. Lu’s focus is on outcomes: get people into the cities, and anticipate and address the challenges this is going to create for municipal governments and the migrants themselves.

A quick read, but a good one.

Understanding China’s NSC

Decoding China’s New “National Security Commission”
Joel Wuthnow, Ph.D.
CNA

November 27, 2013

In the wake of the meetings of the Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in November, the government announced the creation of a new body to unify and oversee China’s national security apparatus.

At first blush, the body looks a lot like the US National Security Council. Even though details are scant, dissection of the announcement by CNA’s China specialists suggest that there are subtle yet important differences, and some real bureaucratic challenges. CNA’s Joel Wuthnow pulls together those opinions to begin to add some clarity to the enigma that is China’s NSC.

This is a great read, if for no other reason than to get a glimpse at the birth of a body that will become an important force in global politics going forward.

On November 12, 2013, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) announced the creation of a new “National Security Commission.” Although few details were offered, PRC official sources and commentary by senior PRC security experts provide insight into its purpose and expected achievements. – See more at: http://www.cna.org/research/2013/decoding-chinas-new-national-security-commission#sthash.3D22PgnL.dpuf
On November 12, 2013, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) announced the creation of a new “National Security Commission.” Although few details were offered, PRC official sources and commentary by senior PRC security experts provide insight into its purpose and expected achievements. – See more at: http://www.cna.org/research/2013/decoding-chinas-new-national-security-commission#sthash.3D22PgnL.dpuf

China’s Cloud

We have made the point often and publicly that China wants to create its own, separate cloud for both commercial and security reasons. The United States – China Economic and Security Review Commission gets that, and commissioned Defense Group, Inc. to study why China is creating its own cloud and how it is doing it. The result is Red Cloud Rising: Cloud Computing in China. Much to my personal pleasure, the study vindicates my point of view, but it goes further, assessing the impacts to US security and the economy, and making recommendations as to what th US needs to do about it. As with many such efforts, it is not a casual read, but a scan of the text offers interesting nuggets aplenty.

Toward a More Humane PLA

The PLA and International Humanitarian Law: Achievements and Challenges
Lt. Col. Wang Wenjuan
Institute for Security and Development Policy
Stockholm
October 2013

English: A Chinese soldier with the People's L...

English: A Chinese soldier with the People’s Liberation Army waits to assist with American and Chinese delegation’s traffic at Shenyang training base, China, March 24, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even leaving aside the tragic events of June 1989, speaking of the humanitarian record of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) seems almost an oxymoron. We simply do not think of the PLA in those terms.

Wang Wenjuan does, though, and in her paper she makes a clear case that China’s military leaders are at least going through the motions. She documents the understanding international humanitarian law (IHL) at the highest levels of command, the degree to which it is integrated into PLA training and indoctrination programs, and the fact that the PLA is even engaged in “research” into humanitarian law.

What matters, of course, is the behavior of the force on the battlefield and in the administration of areas captured and occupied in combat, or areas administered under a peacekeeping mandate. In the two decades during which Wang suggests that the PLA has been in compliance with IHL, the force has never faced a true test of its resolve. And there lies the rub.

In language designed carefully not to place her career in jeopardy, LTC Wang makes clear that more effort is needed to ensure that the PLA behaves in the field according to its professed ideals. History has proven that this is a tall order even for the armed forces of democratic powers (Amritsar, My Lai, and Abu Ghraib, for example.) The PLA has much to prove, and Wang understands that the PLA has a long way to go before it can face such a test.

What is Beijing Thinking?

 

English: Profile image of Hu Shuli

English: Profile image of Hu Shuli (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

China 3.0
Mark Leonard, et. al.
The European Council on Foreign Relations
November 2012

Those of us watching the goings-on in Chinese politics have been treated to the non-fiction equivalent of a byzantine soap opera over the past two years. The unexpectedly turbulent generational leadership transition has given us opportunity to speculate ad nauseum about who was going to get what seat, a debate doubly invigorated by the drama surrounding Bo Xilai‘s metoric rise and fall.

But the seats are filling, the slate of leaders is falling into place, and our attention turns from personalities to policies. What, exactly, are those leaders going to be doing for the next ten years?

President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have begun to lay out their policy priorities, but there are few surprises or insights to be gleaned from public positions. Of far greater interest are the debates taking place within government and the nation’s intelligentsia over the path to take in the future. As James McGregor summarizes in his recent book No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers, for the first time in generations the path forward for China is unclear, there are contending schools of thought at the top of the Party organization, and China lives under the threat of indecision and paralysis in Beijing.

Which is why this slim volume, edited by Mark Leonard, c0-founder and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, is such a valuable survey. Rather than focusing on the dramatics, Leonard’s line up of scholars and observers (including Caixing’s Hu Shuli and blogger Michael Anti) focus on how the debates around finding that way forward are playing out.

In the course of a dozen pithy essays we are treated to a glimpse of how the nation’s leaders are thinking about the future of domestic politics, the economy, foreign policy, and the search for models from which China can glean its own pathway to the future. Most of us will never get a chance to sit in the halls where these decisions are being made, but in China 3.0 Leonard and the ECFR have given us a chance to sit outside the door and listen at the keyhole, all while being treated to the perspectives of 17 of China’s own most astute observers.

Congress and National Security

Kay King from the Council on Foreign Relations looks at the effect of Congressional gridlock on foreign and national security policy in this quick read from the CFR. New media and the longer election cycles have placed a higher political premium on pithy sound bytes and have eroded reflective debate. Fixing the problems won’t be easy, but King has some recommendations on where to start.

Three Essays on Hypertension Prevention and Medical Product Safety in China and the United States

I know it sounds technical and esoteric, but this dissertation by Ying Liu at the RAND Graduate School is worth reading even if you just want to read the last essay. In that piece, Liu examines the state of China’s drug safety regime in the wake of the scandals between 2006 and 2008 that led to the sacking of China’s senior pharmaceutical regulator. The author looks at what has been fixed – and what has not – since China’s drug safety last made global headlines, providing a subtle warning about the problems that may yet come from that sector.

HHS in the 21st Century: Charting a Course for a Healthier America

This pdf book examines how America’s public health bureaucracy needs to address changes in the challenges it faces. Challenges change faster than organizations, and this blue-ribbon panel noted that America’s health ministry needed a new look and feel.

One can only wonder if medical bureaucrats elsewhere in the world are conducting any kind of penetrating self-examination.

Deradicalizing Islamist Extremists

In the face of an increasingly radicalized polity at home, there is something strangely ironic about the idea of the United States government thinking through the process of how to deradicalize extremists. And I have to confess that my latent libertarian (note the small “L”) is a bit discomfited with the idea of the US Government attempting to change the way anyone thinks.

But this RAND monograph by Angel Rabasa, Stacie Pettyjohn, Jeremy Ghez, and Christopher Boucek asks some pointed and challenging questions about the de-radicalization process, whether it is a valid approach, and what the fundamentals of a wise and effective effort might look like.

Among other things, the authors recognize that Islam is not a culture, and that radicals themselves are the products of their own home cultures. They argue that the de-radicalization process is going to differ from country to country and in some cases from individual to individual.

A fascinating read.

Lobbying, Corruption, and Other Banes

This pdf book draws an empirical line between good government relations and bad. The conclusions – that lobbying is better than bribery when one has the choice – are not prima facie surprising. The power of this publication comes from the data that support the conclusion.

This is an absolute must-read for any company crafting its government relations in the developing world and emerging markets, including China, and for any public affairs specialists at public relations firms.

A Call to Revitalize the Engines of Government

A RAND opinion paper calling on Obama to cut the role of contractors in government. Contractors per se are not a bad thing, suggests this report, but when you start replacing core government functions with outsiders you not only lose something, you frequently wind up paying private sector rates for people who before had been happy taking government compensation.

I’m no fan of oversized bureaucracies, but I think our debate about government has become far too focused on size, and not focused enough on efficacy. While RAND to a certain extent has skin in this game, their point of view is less politicized than what is popularly discussed.

This is a question that over the longer term will occupy the governments of China and India as well. Both have long-standing traditions of bloated, multilevel bureaucracies that develop lives and power bases of their own, and will at some point need models to help them “right-size” and make more effective their legions of apparatchiks.

Chinese Corporate Governance: History and Institutional Framework

A very worthwhile RAND pdf book on a surprisingly under-discussed topic. Here we are, three decades into reforming and opening, with sustained high levels of foreign direct investment in Chinese enterprises, a growing cohort of Chinese companies listing on global stock exchanges, and we still are not probing the latent issues in corporate governance in Chinese companies.

That oversight will come back to bite investors at some point, and will have effects that reach far beyond Wall Street. One need only look at the recent food quality scandals and the way they were handled to see why.