Private roles in enhancing Multi-Level Governance: China's “Internet + ” national strategy

AuthorYijia Jing,Danyao Li
Date01 April 2019
Published date01 April 2019
Subject MatterSpecial Issue Articles
Special Issue: Multi-Level Governance in China
Private roles in enhancing
Multi-Level Governance:
China’s ‘‘Internet + ’’
national strategy
Yijia Jing
School of International Relations and Public Affairs,
Fudan University, China
Danyao Li
School of Public and Environmental Affairs,
Indiana University, IN, USA
Multi-Level Governance engages players from multiple levels of governments and multi-
ple sectors for better governance results. This paper argues that private actors may
take a collaborative governance approach to facilitate intergovernmental policy making
and implementation. Specifically, the rise of private sector economy in China has engen-
dered interests and opportunities for resourceful private actors to link fragmented
intergovernmental policy system. Using China’s ‘‘Internet + ’’ national strategy as a
case, the paper finds that internet firms, by adopting collaborative strategies like
mediating, brokering, leveraging, and coordinating, contributed significantly to a
concerted and swift process of intergovernmental policy making and implementation.
Individual, industrial, institutional, and global factors together induced such unusual
private activeness. The paper offers evidence of China’s Multi-Level Governance prac-
tices and identifies an organic linkage in the formation and functioning of Multi-Level
Collaborative governance, China, collaborative governance, intergovernmental rela-
tions, Internet +, Multi-Level Governance
Public Policy and Administration
2019, Vol. 34(2) 144–164
!The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0952076718764012
Corresponding author:
Yijia Jing, School of International Relations and Public Affairs, Fudan University, 811 Wenke Bldg, 220 Handan
Rd, Shanghai 200433, China.
The concept of Multi-Level Governance (MLG) emerged in the European Union
(EU) context as an approach to understand policy making in the EU (Hooghe and
Marks, 2001, 2003; Marks, 1992, 1993). MLG refers to the simultaneous activation
of governmental and non-governmental actors at various jurisdictional levels
(Piattoni, 2010: 250), capturing the increasing need to enable multiple actors to
collectively handle complex public af‌fairs (Pierre and Peters, 2000). The popularity
of MLG in the EU ref‌lects the new complexities of local, national, and regional
issues due to the creation of a supernational layer of actors by European integra-
tion (Kassim, 2015; Schout and Mijs, 2015; Van Zimmeren et al., 2015; Zito, 2015).
Ef‌forts have been made to apply the lens of MLG to other contexts like the United
States and China (Hensengerth, 2015; Ongaro et al., 2010, 2011).
Nonetheless, there is a worry that MLG is ultimately descriptive and is an
umbrella notion rather than a theory (Ongaro, 2015). The multiple missing linkages
of MLG may limit its analytical power and its capacity to make causal arguments.
Most notably, while the ef‌fectiveness of MLG hinges on a conf‌luence of intergov-
ernmental and intersectoral collaboration, there is a lack of analysis how the ver-
tical and horizontal modes of governance may empower instead of constraining
each other. Specif‌ically, while reform tides like New Public Management have
enlarged the participation of private actors in public af‌fairs governance (Savas,
2000), there is a vacuum of knowledge about the consequences of such participa-
tion on the process of intergovernmental policy making.
The core research question of this study is thus to analyze how private actors
may improve MLG in its vertical aspect. Literature on collaborative governance
has rich discussions of its empowering ef‌fects as governments acquire external
capacities like information, productivities, resources, and even legitimacy
(Donahue and Zeckhauser, 2011; Kettl, 1993), yet fails to explicitly explore how
external actors may link and glue governments of multiple layers. This is largely
due to the inclination of current collaboration research to view government as a
unit or a group/network of horizontal actors, failing to recognize the intergovern-
mental nature of the issues and the corresponding structural attributes of the
involved governments. Consequently, an exploration that introduces multi-level
governments into collaborative governance and analyze how collaboration may
enhance intergovernmental policy making and implementation may disclose one
organic linkage within the MLG framework. This is especially important due to the
increasing governance role played by private actors, which may consciously take
strategies to facilitate smooth intergovernmental processes.
China provides an intriguing context to explore this question. The public sector
of China has a long chain of command and control, with f‌ive formal levels of
government (central, provincial, municipal, county, and township). Although
there is no supernational layer like the EU, decentralization reforms since 1978
have unleashed the power of local government and created giant local economies.
Decentralization in the economic sector has to produce fragmentation that calls
Jing and Li 145

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