Now Reading
PARPCC #15 – What role for the provinces in Xi Jinping’s centralized China ?

PARPCC #15 – What role for the provinces in Xi Jinping’s centralized China ?

Since Xi Jinping came to power, China has continued to centralize. To ensure maximum control, the Chinese president has repatriated a large number of skills under his control via the central commissions, but also by assuming the right to review and act on economic prerogatives, usually reserved for prime ministers. The anti-corruption campaign and the strengthening of ideological controls allowed him to oust his competitors while instilling a reign of terror among local governments. With this centralization of power, have the provinces become empty shells?

For Jaros and Tan, China remains a “country of provinces”. According to them, and contrary to what one might think, the role of the provinces has even been strengthened with the growing concentration of powers in the hands of Xi Jinping. If Beijing's wishes are undeniably felt, the provinces have retained a fundamental role in the chain of implementation of policies decided at the central level thanks to their power to allocate resources.

Given the significant corruption of cadres at lower levels of the Party and the State, local levels of government have lost much of their autonomy. From the end of the years 1990, the provinces have obtained a right of oversight over the taxation of Chinese localities. Avec Xi Jinping, they are decision-makers regarding the allocation of land, including at the sub-provincial level. In other words, as the power of cities, Chinese villages and counties are shrinking, the provincial level, real transmission belt from and to Beijing, strengthens.

In effect, major development projects decided by Beijing are most often implemented at the provincial level. This is the case of the “Made in China 2025” industrial reform plan or the New Silk Roads.. It is then the provinces which decide which localities and sectors of activity will benefit from subsidies from the central State., the latter believing that they are the most competent to arbitrate. Thereby, provincial governments have tended to favor metropolises over medium-sized towns and villages, and has (on)invest in sectors that they consider strategic – without worrying about what other provinces are doing. This is not without its share of duplicates.

In addition to being key players in the Chinese territories, the provinces also “do”, in a certain way, Beijing's policies. The New Silk Roads, project of Xi Jinping, enshrined in the Constitution, were inspired by policies initially carried out by the provinces such as that of Yunnan. This province has thus developed since the beginning of the years 2000 an “external” policy centered around the development of infrastructure with border countries. This is not an isolated case: the interest of the provinces in a connectivity policy has been significant for a long time now, as evidenced by the fact that 21 between them (on 31) had already developed their own “plan” for the New Silk Roads, just two years after Xi Jinping's first speech on this subject.

See Also

Far from having put the provinces on the sidelines, the concentration of powers in Beijing has therefore strengthened their power vis-à-vis other territorial levels. They even have a key role in defining the New Silk Roads, a major component of Chinese foreign policy. We can, a priori, always use the expression developed by Zheng Yongnian of“federalismin fact ».

Reference: Jaros, Kyle A.; Tan, Yeling (2020), « Provincial Power in a Centralizing China: The Politics of Domestic and International “development space” », The China Journal, vol. 83, pp.79-104

Scroll To Top