Consultation, Participation, and the Institutionalization of Governance Reform in China

March 5, 2019

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Although the Chinese government has implemented governance reforms that increase transparency and public involvement in the policymaking process, it is uncertain the extent to which these reforms have institutionalized. This article examines the institutionalization—persistence, substantive development, and standardization of best procedures—of online consultation, a prominent instrument of governance reform in which government officials provide interested parties with opportunities to comment on draft laws and regulations over the Internet. The article specifically entails the coding and analysis of hundreds of policy proposals and thousands of public comments in the context of the Ministry of Commerce and Guangzhou Municipal Government, two organizations at the forefront of the implementation of online consultation. The analysis demonstrates that the consultation practices of the Ministry of Commerce and Guangzhou Municipal Government have institutionalized to a greater degree than the citizen feedback that occurs in response to draft laws and regulations. These results point to the conclusion that online consultation is a governance reform that has advanced transparency and (to a lesser degree) public participation, but has not eroded the Chinese Communist Party’s dominance over policymaking.