Is Consultation the New Normal?: Online Policymaking and Governance Reform in China

Journal of Chinese Political Science

by Steven J. Balla, Ph.D, Senior Scholar

March 29, 2017

Journal of Chinese Political Science, Vol. 21, No. 4

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Governance reform has emerged as an element of the Chinese Communst Party’s development strategy in the era of the “new normal.” This article examines the implementation of online consultation, a prominent instrument of governance reform—institutionalized under Hu Jintao and championed by Xi Jinping—in which officials provide interested parties with opportunities to offer feedback on proposed public policies. The research assembles original data regarding the online consultation practices of more than one hundred central government ministries and provincial governments. The analysis demonstrates that online consultation practices are more developed in provincial governments than central government ministries. Online consultation is more advanced in the disclosure of proposed policies than in the circulation of feedback submitted in response to draft laws and regulations. Finally, online consultation is primarily utilized by organizations with substantial resources, as well as organizations operating in environments not characterized by fundamental political sensitivities. These results suggest that, within well-specified limits, online consultation increases information disclosure and public participation in government decision making and, therefore, holds promise as a Party-led, incremental administrative response to the governance challenges of China’s “new normal.”

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