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Redefine Powers between Central and Local Governments


By Zhao Shukai, Development Research Center of the State Council

Since the beginning of the 21st century, county and township governments have seen major changes relating to their precedence within the government system. Though we need to fully recognize historical progress already made by township government in operation, yet more importantly we should be aware of the difficult situation that has occurred within the government system itself. "Recentralization of power" has squeezed power out of county and township governments, leading to a direct intensification of relations with upper-level government and indirect intensification of their ties with the county and township public. Future government reform needs to forgo the traditional "all-in-one" administrative approach, redefine and confirm powers between different levels of government in line with relevant laws and regulations, and establish a new interaction model between primary-level government and upper-level government. First, integration of county and township governments marks the new feature of "primary-level government". Over the past ten-plus years, county and township governments have made great contribution to development and stability and achieved much progress in self-management. But generally speaking, primary-level government has now got stuck in governance problem. In future reform, China should make improvement not only in administrative system and management mode, but also in political reform in wider areas and at higher levels. Second, recentralization of power has become the crux of the political system. Such recentralization is reflected in more centralized fiscal and administrative power and intensified direct control of upper-level government over primary-level government. Third, primary-level officials are caught in a dilemma, not knowing how to deal with senior leaders and the grassroots farmers. The direct consequence of recentralization of power has led to primary-level government’s mistrust in and noncooperation with high-level governments, which also serves as a catalyst to deepen conflict between primary-level government and the public. As a result, the primary-level government is confronted with a predicament facing both criticism from higher-level officials and dissatisfaction from grassroots public. Fourth, reinforcing county government with expanded power is a proactive move to straighten up inter-government relations. To fundamentally sort out the relations between primary-level and senior-level governments, we need to enhance reform, through delegating more powers to lower-level government and making relevant reforms in the political system. Fifth, standard operation is historical progress relating to primary-level government operation. Externally, government operation will become more normalized; internally, policy-making process will be more standardized. And sixth, the redefinition and confirmation of powers between governments. With regard to government reform, we also need to proactively redefine and confirm powers between different levels of governments so as to settle increasing and more complex system conflicts.



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