Toward Multi-Level Governance in China? Coping with complex public affairs across jurisdictions and organizations

AuthorTing Gong,Yijia Jing,Edoardo Ongaro
Date01 April 2019
Published date01 April 2019
Subject MatterSpecial Issue Articles
Special Issue: Multi-Level Governance in China
Toward Multi-Level
Governance in China?
Coping with complex
public affairs across
jurisdictions and
Edoardo Ongaro
Open University, UK
Ting Gong
City University of Hong Kong and Fudan University, China
Yijia Jing
Fudan University, China
AbstractThis special issue argues for the applicability of the conceptual framework of
Multi-Level Governance to the political–administrative regime of China, provided sig-
nificant adaptations and qualifications are developed. The application of Multi-Level
Governance to China enables to account for global influences as well as for the involve-
ment of non-governmental actors in public policy making. More radically, we suggest in
this introductory article that the development of Multi-Level Governance may be inter-
preted as a way of enhancing the societal legitimacy of the political regime under the
conditions of new authoritarianism. We conclude this article by drawing a fascinating yet
possibly hazardous and overstretched parallel; that is, the development of Multi-Level
Governance may be part and parcel of a process of building political legitimacy in China,
just as it may be a way of exploring paths for the renewal of beleaguered traditional
liberal democracy in Europe. Albeit along profoundly different trajectories, China and
Europe might adopt Multi-Level Governance arrangements for a very purposive course
of action: enhancing the legitimacy of the respective and very diverse political systems
and buttressing their very foundations. This suggests a strongly normative and purpos-
ive application of Multi-Level Governance.
Public Policy and Administration
2019, Vol. 34(2) 105–120
!The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0952076718799397
Corresponding author:
Edoardo Ongaro, The Open University Business School, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK.
Administration and democracy, intergovernmental relations, Multi-Level Governance,
transition countries
Multi-Level Governance in China?
Marketization, globalization, and social restructuring have fundamentally changed
the governance of public af‌fairs in China, adjusting its values, structures, processes,
and instruments to deal with unprecedented challenges. Notably, common prob-
lems, demands, and interests have induced collaborative actions across multiple
levels of government and engaged various stakeholders, such as intergovernmental
organizations (IGOs), private f‌irms, non-government organizations (NGOs), and
citizens. International and global inf‌luences over the converging processes are also
evident. Borrowing from a literature which was originally developed in Europe, we
term this phenomenon as Multi-Level Governance (MLG) (Enderlein et al., 2010;
Marks, 1993; Ongaro, 2015). MLG arrangements, new as they may be to China,
can be detected, and at times are deliberately pursued with enthusiasm, in areas
such as crime control, elderly service delivery, technological innovation, trade and
investment facilitation, domestic and international migration, corruption preven-
tion, disaster relief, and water and natural environment preservation (Jing et al.,
2012). The development of MLG has been reshaping the traditional view of public
policy and administration in China that relies solely on mechanisms of hierarchy,
publicness, and sovereignty.
A study of MLG in China responds to both universal and contextual curiosities.
Featuring traits of intergovernmental relations (IGR) and collaborative govern-
ance (CG) (Huxham and Vangen, 2005; Jing, 2015; Jing et al., 2012), MLG is a rich
concept involving many theoretically signif‌icant issues. What is MLG? Who are the
players and what are their interactive patterns? How are problems identif‌ied, agen-
das set, and decisions made, implemented and evaluated in MLG arrangements?
How do learning processes take place and how are risks controlled and benef‌its
shared under an MLG frame? What are the applied and to-be-developed tech-
niques and instruments of MLG? How does the development of MLG af‌fect the
relations between the state, society, and market? How have domestic and external
factors intervened to shape engaged actors and f‌inal results? How can the perform-
ance of an MLG system be measured? An examination of the development of
MLG in China helps address some of these questions in the specif‌ic context
of China and may also bring about novel research perspectives and new questions
of more universalistic interest.
China became the world’s second largest national economy in 2010, and its ratio
of external economic dependence (international trade of goods divided by gross
domestic product (GDP)) was 33.6% in 2017. Being the most populous country
and one of the fastest growing economies in the world, it nevertheless faces serious
challenges such as ageing, polarization, gender imbalance, uneven economic devel-
opment, corruption, and pollution. The intergovernmental system in China has
106 Public Policy and Administration 34(2)

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