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The politics of consultative authoritarianism : bureaucratic competition, deliberation and responsiveness in China Kornreich, Yoel

Abstract

This dissertation, which consists of two separate but related components, examines public consultation in authoritarian regimes, with a focus on China, where expert consultation is now a standard procedure in the drafting process of major policies. While expert consultation is ubiquitous, not all episodes of expert participation display high-quality deliberation. In the majority of cases, the bureaucracy recruits a cohort of advisors espousing similar positions and instructs them to draft a unified blueprint while constraining debate. In other cases, however, the procedure is highly deliberative, as the government enlists experts with diverse persuasions, and permits them to produce parallel blueprints while also encouraging debate. What accounts for variation in the design of these consultative procedures? I argue that the degree of intra-elite competition shapes expert consultation processes. In cases of fierce bureaucratic conflict, at different stages during the policymaking process, bureaucratic actors who perceive themselves as weak opt for the expansion of the consultation procedure. The end result of this process is the inclusion of experts representing a wide spectrum of opinions. However, in cases of bureaucratic consensus, government officials have fewer incentives to either diversify or expand the roster of advisors. As a result, experts’ consultation is likely to become insipid. To test this theory, the dissertation analyzes the drafting processes of two cases of expert participation, the drafting of China’s Healthcare Reform (2009) and Education Reform (2010). In the second component of the dissertation, I study authoritarian responsiveness to consultative input originating from grassroots groups. In 2008, the Chinese government unveiled a blueprint for healthcare reform, inviting the public to post their opinions online. Having collected 27,899 online comments, the government subsequently published a revised draft. I present a statistical analysis based on the coding of a random sample of two percent of this corpus of comments, assessing the effect of comments on revisions while controlling for both media content and bureaucratic preferences. Demonstrating that public comments have an impact upon policy revisions, the findings also suggest that bureaucrats’ calculus of ensuring smooth policy implementation underlie a higher degree of responsiveness to frontline implementers than to other social groups.

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