A pilot project to bring openness to the Shenzhen government has won praise as a step towards greater accountability, but the limited reach of the scheme has been questioned.
It was reported last week the city government would be reorganised into a three-tiered administration, with the project touted as a testing ground for limited political reform.
Shenzhen University public administration professor Ma Jingren, one of the architects of the project, said it was drawn up to allow the government to respond quickly to the needs of China's rapidly growing economy and the demands of entry to the World Trade Organisation.
After a year-long study of government structures in Hong Kong, the United States and Europe, researchers found there was a need to improve the standard of policy-making, increase the efficiency of services and tighten supervision, Professor Ma said. Accordingly, policy-making, execution and supervision will be carried out under separate divisions.
Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences researcher Wang Dongming said the reform would legitimise the government in the eyes of a disillusioned public.
'There is depth in these reforms . . . it's very innovative. The Chinese government is under external pressure to institute separation of powers but it can't do this as we have a communist system, so a way has to be found to introduce the concept,' said Professor Wang, referring to the separation of the executive, legislature and judiciary in Western models.
Professor Ma also said the changes were aimed at 'allowing more public participation in policy making', without elaborating.
But Zhongshan University political science professor Xiao Bin said the concept had been presented in a misleading way. People had been led to believe there would be a separation of powers, he said, but the reform was confined to the executive branch, and policy-making power still rested with the Communist Party.
'I admit that it is significant to introduce the idea of checks and balances but this is just an internal reform of government. Moreover, what checks and balances can you talk about when the supervisory division is also part of government?' he said. Professor Xiao said that for reform to be meaningful, it would have to cover the entire political system and not just 'one of its limbs'.
'In China, we do not have the legal or political framework for such deep reforms,' he said.
Professor Wang also cast doubt on the likelihood of the three-tier structure succeeding in its goals, given that it will challenge powerful vested interests.
'It may be easier in Shenzhen, where the economy is more open and mature,' he said.
Professor Ma conceded that the reform would face resistance, indicating this was a factor behind delays to the launch of the scheme, expected next year.