【英语中国】小修小补的中国改革

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2013-11-16 08:43

小艾摘要: For those who have to endure the toxic smog of northern China, it often comes as a surprise to learn that Chinese environmental laws and emissions regulations are some of the most stringent in the wor ...
For those who have to endure the toxic smog of northern China, it often comes as a surprise to learn that Chinese environmental laws and emissions regulations are some of the most stringent in the world.

Over the past 10 years, Chinese leaders have insisted that cleaning up an environment devastated by decades of dirty, energy-intensive growth is a top priority.

But each year the smog thickens and the ecological destruction continues, as officials at every level ignore environmental laws and regulations in their jurisdictions in favour of rapid annual expansion of gross domestic product.

Improving the environment was among the host of reforms announced on Tuesday evening, when nearly 400 of the most powerful officials in the ruling Communist party wrapped up one of the most important meetings on their political calendar.

Their pledge, couched in the turgid language typical of the party, was unlikely to inspire confidence among those suffering from the effects of smog in big Chinese cities.

“To construct an ecological civilisation we must establish systematic and integrated ecological civilisation, institutions and systems, and use institutions to protect the ecology and environment,” said the statement issued at the end of the third plenary session of the 18th Communist party of China’s Central Committee.

Despite slightly stronger language on land reform and market forces, the pronouncements from President Xi Jinping and his comrades at the end of the meeting were met by many in the Chinese system with a cynicism that would have been unheard of just a few years ago.

“These reforms are just like small repairs on an old road,” says Zhang Ming, a professor of politics at Renmin University in Beijing. “In essence, they are about making small adjustments at the administrative level, but these are pretty meaningless and hard to sustain.”

The most striking outcome from the meeting was not a new policy or a reform but the creation of two administrative bodies within the party, which concentrate power over the economy and the all-power security services directly in Mr Xi’s hands.

The potent new councils are an implicit acknowledgment from the leadership that the current Chinese governance system can no longer effectively implement top-down policy measures in the world’s second-largest economy.

In particular, the establishment of a national security council is reminiscent of a similar move by the Qing Dynasty’s Yongzheng emperor who established an “office of military secrets” (later known in English as the “grand council”) in the 18th century to cut through the bureaucracy and push through his policies.

“There tends to be an impression outside China that this is a seamless authoritarian system and when the leadership says jump everyone jumps, but that is a very unrealistic view of how the country works,” says Kenneth Lieberthal, a former senior director for Asia on the National Security Council in the White House. “The reality is yes, everyone jumps but not necessarily in the direction the leadership wants. This is a system that can be highly disciplined and highly centralised but almost never is.”

The contradiction between excellent environmental legislation and terrible pollution problems provides just one example.

Last week, the state council, China’s cabinet, and President Xi separately reiterated their commitment to reining in overcapacity in a wide range of industries, such as steel and cement. China’s leaders have been trying to tackle overcapacity in these sectors since 2004, but all have expanded rapidly and in some cases tripled their capacity since then.

The same is true for surging property prices. The government has tried to douse them since at least 2007 but they have soared instead.

Many of the goals mentioned at the close of the meeting on Tuesday have been part of the government’s agenda for many years, and were included in its 11th and 12th five-year plans, which came out in 2006 and 2011 respectively.

Reducing the economy’s reliance on investment and moving to a more service-oriented, innovation-led, consumption-based growth model have been central government policies going back eight years.

As growth continues to slow from the double-digit rates of the past three decades there is growing international pressure on Beijing to rebalance its economy away from dependence on exports and investment, rein in credit growth and liberalise financial services. Reforms aimed at income redistribution have been talked about since 2004 but, after three decades of market-oriented policies, nominally communist China is one of the most unequal societies on earth.

Despite much hype this year about plans to reform the fiscal system and reduce China’s widening wealth gap, nothing concrete has happened.

“If you look at the broad goals included in the government’s 12th five-year plan you can see that many of them are repetitions of what was in the 11th five-year plan,” says Mr Lieberthal. “That’s because many of the goals of the 11th five-year plan, such as increasing the role of household consumption, decreasing inequality, increasing macroeconomic efficiency, improving energy efficiency, all pretty much moved in the wrong direction.”

In Chinese policy circles, the 2002-2012 rule of President Hu Jintao is now referred to as a “lost decade” because of this striking disconnect between state policy goals and actual outcomes.

By establishing his new “grand council”, Mr Xi is trying to short-circuit a system that has been corroded by perverse incentives and rampant corruption.

For a start, policy directives from the central authorities in Beijing are vague by design in order to give maximum leeway to lower-level officials operating in local economies that are all at different stages of development.

“Crossing the river by feeling the stones” – an emphasis on policy experimentation and gradualism – has been the wildly successful guiding governance philosophy since Deng Xiaoping put China on the path of market reforms in the late 1970s.

Beijing, therefore, sets a broad general direction and leaves it to lower levels of the bureaucracy to experiment and improvise, so that the policy makes as much sense in Shanghai as it does in rural Hunan province.

Given the sheer number of policies that cascade down from the centre, local officials are forced to prioritise.

Inevitably they will attend to policies that have the biggest chance of not derailing their careers or can provide the most lucrative opportunities for them and their families.

The government can tell regional officials that it wants more innovation, more consumption and less investment, but in their annual cadre evaluations about 70 per cent of the points are awarded for raising GDP and avoiding any unrest or embarrassing scandal in their jurisdiction.

Few points are given for stated government priorities such as cleaning up the environment, in part because it is so difficult to measure success.

“Unless we see a change in the way officials are evaluated for promotion we will never see serious reforms,” says Guo Weiqing, a professor at Sun Yat-sen University. “But the leadership has made clear that rapid GDP growth remains the priority, so I’m quite pessimistic.”

The myopic focus on GDP growth rates helps fuel over-investment across the country but it also aligns almost perfectly with the corrupt interests of many officials.

By building a large dam, road or giant housing complex, an official can boost GDP and create jobs while also creating a large pot of money he can dip into for himself or spread around friends and family.

An example of this phenomenon played out nearly a decade ago, when the central government ordered hundreds of big cities to build water treatment facilities to handle the growing problem of untreated sewage pouring into China’s waterways.

When the programme ended and government inspection teams were sent out from Beijing they found that virtually all of the facilities had been built on time and to the right specifications. But one year after they were completed only about half of the plants had actually been turned on.

“I saw photographs of sewage pipes leading up to a treatment plant and then going directly around it to dump untreated sewage straight into a river,” says Mr Lieberthal. “Building the plant was a major profit centre for the local officials but putting it into operation made it a cost centre. You can see examples like this over and over again throughout China.”

Since it remains an authoritarian one-party state, China’s leaders are still able to marshal enormous resources and impose strict discipline when they absolutely have to but doing so depletes vital political capital.

The outbreak of Sars in 2003 provided a clear example of the power of the Chinese system once Beijing decided it could no longer cover up the potential pandemic. Virtually the entire country was mobilised to contain the disease. Within months, that goal was reached.

Apart from national emergencies, local officials know there are only a small number of easily measurable core policies beyond reporting stellar GDP growth that enjoy support among top leaders, and which can make or break the career of a provincial cadre.

First is “stability maintenance” – snuffing out incipient peasant or worker rebellions. This is usually achieved through a measure of good governance combined with a pervasive and iron-fisted array of security and surveillance services.

The other clear priority is the “one-child policy”, which is strictly enforced even though it is hugely unpopular and could be responsible for a looming demographic and economic disaster.

Apart from these priorities it is difficult to identify issues that are easily measured on an annual basis, with clear fixed responsibility for implementation and which the leadership has decided are career stoppers for officials who fail to carry them out.

These priority issues just happen to dovetail neatly with the interests of local officials who rely on the power, budgets, fines and corruption opportunities that inevitably arise when implementing each of them.

“The biggest challenge for the party is the fact that all its traditional methods of governing are no longer effective. What they need is an overhaul of the entire system,” says Chen Min, a former political commentator with a big newspaper who was sacked for his outspoken views. “The problem is that the current leadership has no idea how to quickly fix the system so they find themselves in a situation where it’s over if they reform and it’s over if they don’t reform.”

Golf: Rich man’s game thrives under government ban

A proliferation of luxury golf courses in China provides one of the most striking examples of the disconnect between government policies and how they are implemented, or not in this case. In 2004, the central government banned the construction of all golf courses in the country in an attempt to save water, preserve arable land and reduce the number of peasant farmers who are regularly thrown off their land to make way for property development.

The ban was reissued repeatedly and in 2011 a senior official from the Ministry of Land and Resources told the FT that the construction of any new golf course was completely illegal.

However, since the ban was first announced the number of golf courses in China has more than tripled, from about 170 in 2004 to about 650 now, according to independent estimates from China’s top golf research centre in Beijing.

Most of the newly built courses appear to have evaded scrutiny with the thinnest of disguises – by calling themselves “country clubs” or “health and entertainment clubs” and leaving the word “golf” off the signs that hang outside their clubhouses. The real reason these violations of central government directives still exist is that they are often owned and frequented by local government officials or by their friends and relatives.

Some local governments even use state funds earmarked for environmental protection, public parks or green belts to build their golf courses, despite these facilities wasting huge amounts of precious water in a country that is one of the most water-scarce on earth.

Golf was banned entirely in China as a “rich man’s game” until 1984 but has made a huge comeback in the past two decades, especially as a way for government officials and powerful businessmen to socialise and cut deals.

Additional reporting by Gu Yu

不得不忍受北方中国毒霾的人们会惊讶地得知,中国的环保法规在全世界范围看,都是最严格的。

过去十年,中国领导人一直坚称,净化环境是当务之急。几十年来,中国的环境成了高污染、高耗能的经济增长的牺牲品。

但年复一年,雾霾越来越浓,生态继续恶化。更关注辖区内GDP增速的各级政府官员们,往往对环保法规视而不见。

本周二,近400名最有实权的中国共产党官员参加了今年中国政治生活中最重要的一次会议。会议结束时宣布了一系列改革计划。改善环境便是其中之一。

用其典型的晦涩语言,中共宣布了一系列承诺,但这很难给中国大城市中呼吸着雾霾的人们带来信心。

中国共产党十八届三中全会闭幕时发表的公报宣称:“建设生态文明,必须建立系统完整的生态文明制度体制,用制度保护生态环境。”

这份由习近平主席及同僚们在会议末尾发布的公报,尽管在土地改革和释放市场力量方面的语气稍有加重,但即便在体制内也没得到多少真诚的响应。这种情况在几年前是很难想象的。

“只是在走老路,在旧层面上做一些修补,”中国人民大学政治学教授张鸣说。“它们本质上是在行政层面进行小的调整,但行政层面的改变意义不大,很难保持。”

会议最引人注目的结果,并不是提出了某一项新政策或改革措施,而是在党内新设了两个行政机构,将经济和国家安全大权直接集中在习近平手中。

设立这两个强势的新机构意味着,中国最高层默认,在这个世界第二大经济体中,目前的治理体制已无法确保政令自上而下得到贯彻。

国家安全委员会的成立,尤其让人联想到18世纪清朝雍正皇帝的类似举措。雍正当时设立了军机处,让他可以越过官僚体制推行政策。

“中国外部的人容易有一种印象,就是中国的专制体系是无缝的,最高层让大家跳,大家就跳。但这不是中国的现实情况,”前白宫国家安全委员会(National Security Council)亚洲部高级主任李侃如(Kenneth Lieberthal)说。“现实是,最高层说跳,大家都跳,但不一定是朝着最高层希望的方向跳。这个体制是可以变得纪律严明、高度集权的,但它几乎从来没有这样过。”

严格的环保法律和严重污染之间的矛盾,就是一个例证。

上周,中国国务院和习近平主席在不同场合重申,将致力于控制钢铁和水泥等多个行业的产能过剩问题。中国领导人自2004年以来,一直在试图遏制这些领域的产能,但所有这些行业仍然快速扩张,一些行业现在的产能甚至是2004年的三倍。

房价暴涨也是例证。中国政府至少从2007年开始,就试图给房地产降温,但房价不降反升。

三中全会闭幕时提到的多项目标,多年来一直在政府议程之列,许多在2006年和2011年的第11和第12个“五年计划”中就出现过。

减少经济对投资的依赖,转向以服务为导向的、鼓励创新的、由消费主导的增长模式,在8年前就已是中央政府的政策。

随着中国经济增速从过去30年的两位数不断放缓,国际社会对中国的压力与日俱增,要求中国政府调整经济模式,摆脱对出口和投资的依赖,控制信贷增长,放松对金融服务的管制。中国政府从2004年起就表示要推行收入分配改革,但是,在历经30年的市场化改革后,“社会主义”中国仍然是世界上最不平等的国家之一。

尽管今年政府释放出很多改革财政制度、缩小贫富差距的的信号,但至今仍无具体措施出台。

“如果你看看中国政府‘十二五’计划中的那些目标,就会发现其中很多与‘十一五’相同,”李侃如说。“这是因为‘十一五’的许多目标,包括增加消费占经济比重、减少不平等、提高经济效率和提高能源效率等,实际情况反而走向了相反的方向。”

在中国的政策圈子里,从2002至2012年的胡锦涛主席执政期,被称作“失去的十年”,因为政策目标和实际结果出现明显的脱节。

通过成立现代版“军机处”,习近平试图绕过一个因不合理的激励机制和腐败猖獗而漏洞重重的官僚体系。

在中国,中央部门的政策措辞通常刻意地含糊,是为了给地方官员留出最大的操作空间——这些地方官员治下的区域常常处于不同的发展阶段。

自从邓小平在20世纪70年代末将中国推上市场改革之路后,“摸着石头过河”、允许试错和强调渐进改革的执政哲学大获成功。

在这个哲学的指导下,中央政府指出一个宽泛的总体方向,为低级别官员留出试验和随机应变的空间,这样才能确保中央政策不仅可以适应上海的需要,也能适应湖南农村的需要。

由于中央下达的政策指令数目繁多,地方官员不得不排出一个“优先级”。

不可避免的结果是,他们会推行最不会损害自己仕途的政策,或是最有可能为自己和家人带来利益的政策。

中央政府可以指示地方官员加强创新、增加消费和减少投资。但在年度干部考核中,提高GDP和避免辖区出现动乱或丑闻这两项,占到考分的约70%。

而净化环境这个政府宣称的关键目标,只占很小比重,部分原因在于很难衡量。

“如果官员考核方式不变,就不会有真正意义的改革,”中山大学教授郭巍青说。“但最高层明确说,保持GDP快速增长仍然是优先目标。所以我个人感觉比较悲观。”

盲目强调GDP增长,已导致中国各地投资过度,但却正中许多腐败官员的下怀。

建设大坝、公路或大型住宅区不仅可以提高GDP、创造就业,还可以让官员有机会将一大笔钱装进腰包,甚至惠及亲友。

一个例子发生在近十年前。当时中央政府指示几百座大型城市建设污水处理厂,以解决污水直排造成的日益严重的饮水安全问题。

在项目结束后,中央政府向各地派出调查组。调查人员发现,几乎所有工程都按时完工,且完全达标。但在建成一年后,只有约一半的污水处理厂真正开工运转。

“我看到过这样的照片:污水管已经通到了水处理厂,但却一个拐弯绕过处理厂,将未处理过的污水直接排放到一条河中,”李侃如说。“建造一个污水处理厂可以给地方政府官员带来利益,但厂子运转起来后就会变成一个成本中心。在中国各地,这样的例子比比皆是。”

由于中国仍然奉行一党威权体制,在绝对必要时,最高层仍能集中大量资源、维持纪律,但这样做必须耗费大量政治资本。

2003年爆发的非典(Sars)就是一个很好的例证。当中国政府意识到无法继续掩盖潜在疫情的时候,中国体制爆发出无比强大的力量。中国政府动用了几乎整个国家的力量,让疫情在几个月内就得到了控制。

但除了非典这样的全国性的紧急事件外,地方政府官员知道,除了确保GDP增长外,只有少数几个易于衡量的政策指标,既能得到最高领导人的支持,也能决定一个地方官员的政治前途。

首先是“维稳”,扼杀农民或工人反抗的苗头。为达到这个政策目标,政府在出台合理的治理措施外,也会配以无处不在的监控和铁腕的安保手段。

另一个优先项是“独生子女”政策。尽管这项政策在民众中不受欢迎,破坏了中国人口结构,甚至会导致一场经济灾难,但各地现在仍然严格遵守这项政策。

除了上述这些优先项,鲜有其它政策指标能被量化和逐年对比、有清晰且明确的责权,且一旦未能完成,会要了负责官员的乌纱帽。

而那些政策优先项,恰好与地方官员的利益完美契合。推行这些政策,能给官员带来权力、财政预算、处罚权和贪腐良机。

“中国共产党面临的最大挑战在于,所有传统的治理方法都不再有效。他们需要的是改革整个体制,”陈敏说。他曾是一家大型报纸的政治评论员,后因言论大胆被解雇。“问题是,当前的领导人对于如何迅速改革这个体制束手无策,他们发现,如果改革,体制就完了,如果不改革,体制也会完。”

英国《金融时报》谷禹补充报道

译者/何黎

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