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Unformatted text preview: CRS Report for Congress Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress Understanding Chinas Political System Michael F. Martin Spet in Asian Trade and Finance April 14, 2010 Congressional Research Service 7-5700 www.crs.gov R41007 Understanding Chinas Political System Congressional Research Service Summary Opaque and shrouded in secrecy, Chinas political system and decision-making processes are mysteries to many Westerners. At one level, China is a one-party state that has been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since 1949. But rather than being rigidly hierarchical and authoritarian, which is often the assumption, political power in China now is diffuse, complex, and at times highly competitive. Despite its grip on power, the Party and its senior leaders (the Politburo and its Standing Committee) are not always able to dictate policy decisions as they once did. Instead, present-day Chinas political process is infused with other political actors that influence and sometimes determine policy. Three other main actors co-exist with the Party at the top of Chinas political system. Chief among these is the muscular state government bureaucracy, whose structures closely parallel the Partys throughout China, operating in a largely separate but interlocking way to implement and administer state business. Another key institution is the Peoples Liberation Army, operating again largely separately and with a tenuous distinction between civilian, military, and Party leadership. Completing the top political institutions is the National Peoples Congress, constitutionally the highest organ of state power but in practice the weakest of the top political institutions. Other political actors in China include provincial and local officials; a growing body of official and quasi-official policy research groups and think tanks that feed proposals into the policy process; a collection of state sector, multinational, and even private business interests exerting pressure on policy decisions; a vigorous academic and university community; a diverse media that informs public opinion; and an increasingly vocal and better-informed citizenry that are demanding more transparency and accountability from government. New forms of communication and information availability also have pressured the PRC government to make changes in its political system, and have provided the Party with new means of maintaining political control. The political story in China today is the extent to which these multiple actors and changing circumstances have helped blur the communist regimes lines of authority. Chinese politics is further complicated by other factors. In the absence of a more formalized institutional infrastructure, personal affiliations can play a significant role in political decisions, adding unpredictability to an already murky process. In addition, discipline between the different levels of party and government structure can be tenuous, leading to ineffective implementation of...
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