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Crisis and Reform: Governance of County and Township Governments


Zhao Shukai, Development Research Center of the State Council

Since the turn of the new century, the county and township governments have witnessed major changes relating to their position in the government system. The central government has, through recentralization of power, taken back some power from county and township governments across the board, leading to tense relations both between county and township governments and upper-level governments and between county and township governments and the grassroots-level public. By taking the county and township governments as the primary-level governments, and focusing on the changes of the primary-level government power over the past ten years, this paper gives an analysis of power interaction between primary-level governments and upper-level governments and that within primary-level governments themselves. It reveals the difficulties, dilemmas and various conflicts facing the county and township governments in the government system, and illustrates the brewing government governance crisis. It is found through examination of county and township power allocation that the basic pattern of government system still carries the feature of top-down power centralization. The centralized power has exerted a profound and negative impact on the entire government system. On one hand, centralized power has severely strained the primary-level governments' capability of serving the people and managing social affairs, turning micro conflicts into macro ones and making it more difficult to conduct primary-level social governance. On the other, centralized power has seriously dampened the cooperation between the primary-level governments and upper-level governments and made primary-level officials become less active or even resistant to carry out the directives of upper-level governments, leading to policy failure in many cases. In addition, centralized power has imposed a more negative impact on primary-level government officials. Facts show that these officials are losing their trust and loyalty to the political system. The primary-level governments are now facing systematic obstacles. First, the government operation obstacles caused by the stagnant system could be viewed as the system crisis. Second, the government operation obstacles caused by the stagnant democratic reform process could be regarded as the democracy crisis. The core problem is indifferent concern of the public about government performance as well as the unbecoming government conducts to their capacity, thus leading to mistrust, incooperation and even resistance of the public towards the government. Third, the non-smooth government performance caused by the stagnant reform of the rule of law and that could be named as the rule of law crisis. Complicated interest relations are required to be coordinated in the process of social and economic transformation. Shortage of relevant laws and regulations has intensified conflicts and even induced extensive social conflicts. Since the convention of the 18th National Congress of the CPC, a series of new measures issued by the central government has drawn great attention. In terms of government reform, the central government has slashed the number of items for its review and approval, delegated some powers to lower-level governments, and taken a swift move for administrative decentralization. This paper holds that administrative system arrangements of the primary-level governments such as the number of agencies of the county and township governments, the number of positions and personnel and the way of allocating administrative power among different departments, should not be part of the central government's duty, since these issues could not be properly dealt with by the central government. The central government should, instead, bear more responsibilities in local political reform progress, proactively plan and design the basic framework and roadmap for the political reform, and play the part of a propeller to push forward these reform approaches. If forceful adjustment is made in the political system arrangements, the primary-level governments will naturally make adequate administrative arrangements.

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