Big ships turn slowly

China’s urbanization is continuing straight ahead

I am on the record as being skeptical that the Chinese regime is going to change its urbanization policies radically in the upcoming Third Plenum. Sinocism‘s continuing coverage of news related to the twists and turns of this debate has not changed my mind yet. Two pieces from today’s compilation reinforce that view. John Marshall presents a nice overview of some of the issues related to China’s urbanization at the Diplomat. Like Tom Miller’s excellent China’s Urban Billion, however, the focus remains on the economics rather than the politics. One exception is a nice paragraph on China’s making it through the Great Recession:

However, how far China’s leaders are willing to go with liberalization of China’s rural land remains to be seen. Not only is collective ownership a totemic issue but there are real concerns about both cutting rural hukou holders’ ties to the land and food security. Opponents argue one of the key reasons social stability was maintained following the laying off of approximately 23 million migrant workers during the global financial crisis was because they were able to return to their land. There are also fears that liberalizing the ownership of rural land would endanger China’s self-sufficiency in domestically produced crops and thereby threaten China’s security.

While certainly not a defender of the hukou system, I think that it is one of the reasons that the regime made it through that economic storm unscathed, as I argue in “Authoritarian Resilience under Crisis and my forthcoming book [here‘s the proposal for a sense of the argument].

Directly following the Diplomat’s piece is one coming from Study Times (link Chinese) on “新型城镇化是一个持续的过程 (New Type of Urbanization is a Continuing Process).” Everything here points to continuation and evolutionary changes rather than radical breaks with past policies. Changes in tax allocations and the relations between the center and localities point to the desire to avoid expensive and wasteful construction as local officials compete for promotions and pay-days from higher ups.

China’s urbanization matters, not only for the hundreds of millions living in Chinese cities today or desiring to do so, but globally as the process is responsible for a measurable share of global economic growth. Huge ships rarely turn quickly.

One response to “Big ships turn slowly”

  1. What this is telling me that, although ‘big ships turn slowly,’ those in charge are starting to cut the wheel. An enterprising person would be keen to follow the process of liberalization of China’s rural lands over the course of the coming years.

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