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Sectoral policy-making in China’s strategic industries: government guidance and state firm influence in the electricity supply sector

Sampson, Christopher (2016) Sectoral policy-making in China’s strategic industries: government guidance and state firm influence in the electricity supply sector. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis engages with a debate in the literature on the political economy of China’s industrial reforms about the determinants of major policy trajectories in that country’s strategic industries. A common approach understands central-level policy processes and their structural outcomes in strategic sectors to be subject to active and effective central government guidance, often applied via control over state-owned industry. A less common perspective, on the other hand, has argued that policy formulation and implementation in a number of strategic industries are often dominated by large central state-owned enterprises (SOEs) capable of imposing their own preferences on sectoral policy. Addressing these partially opposing perspectives, this thesis analyses political processes underlying major policy developments in China’s electricity supply industry since 2002, finding that neither approach sufficiently accounts for the complexity of interactions between government and SOEs during the formulation and implementation of sectoral policy. ‘Government-centred’ accounts were found to have exaggerated the effectiveness of central government’s policy guidance while underappreciating SOEs’ considerable sectoral policy impact. ‘SOE-centred’ accounts, on the other hand, have similarly overstated their claims while furthermore giving a distorted perspective of the mechanisms through which SOEs’ policy influence occurs. Building on findings from the case of electricity supply, this thesis establishes an alternative account of the political interplay between both sides and its relevance for sectoral policy-making in China’s strategic industries. It illustrates that central SOEs autonomously pursue their own industrial reform agendas which often deviate from government’s sectoral preferences and from existing sectoral policy. However, it contends that these firms are only able to realise contentious sectoral objectives by tactically ‘synchronising’ them with cross-sectoral policy agendas pursued by central government. When sectoral reform goals diverge and ‘synchronisation’ is absent, policy gridlock often ensues. Overall, this thesis finds that central government’s sectoral guidance over strategic industries is subject to substantial interference by central SOEs, but that this interference largely takes place within the confines of government-sanctioned cross-sectoral policy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Christopher Sampson
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Thatcher, Mark and Lin, Chun

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