China File All governments keep some matters secret, especially when it comes to national security. by Susan Shirk
'Chinese citizens as well as foreigners have to try to figure it out
by piecing together snippets of information and rumor. So-called
“Pekingologists” base their hunches on “reading the tea leaves.”
'What price is China paying economically and diplomatically for its lack of transparency?
'How could it be that in a country with such a globalized market
economy and vibrant society, national policy-making remains a black box?
'Secrecy is a drag on the economy. Most economic, environmental, and
social policies are decided not by legislation in the National People’s
Congress (where a bill becomes a law by a relatively open process), but
by a mysterious bureaucratic game that can only be guessed at. It’s a
major struggle just for officials in one government agency to get
information from another. Outside the government, businesses make
inefficient choices because they are confused about which of multiple
overlapping regulatory bodies will be responsible for deciding their
fate, and they cannot predict how policies might change in the future.
For example, a media company may sign a contract to buy a foreign
television show, only to learn that the approvals it obtained from one
Chinese agency were not enough and another agency demands the final
chop. Foreign firms are calling for regulatory due process because they
feel discriminated against in domains like China’s anti-monopoly
enforcement that have unclear standards and authority shared by three
separate agencies. Questions about fairness and justice inevitably arise
because it’s impossible to know who actually made the final call and
for what reasons.
'Under Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party appears to have
reclaimed the authority over policy-making that it previously had
delegated to the State Council, China’s cabinet. CCP small leading groups,
all chaired by Xi, seem to be in charge of pretty much everything. But
it’s impossible to tell whether policies actually are made by the small
leading group, the Politburo, the Politburo Standing Committee, or by
the leader himself. Leaks about internal deliberations are extremely
rare, and when they do occur, are punished by long prison terms. A
handful of brave newspapers sometimes report on interagency differences
on economic policy, but never dare venture into what might be occurring
in top Party bodies.
'The CCP’s fetish for secrecy stems from its origins as a Leninist
revolutionary organization, and its belief that only by presenting a
façade of perfect unanimity at the top can it discourage bottom-up