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Title: Partners of authoritarians : the politics of community NGOs in China
Author: Yuen, Samson
ISNI:       0000 0004 6496 5370
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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Contemporary authoritarian regimes do not rule by coercive force alone. To compensate for their democratic deficit and to strengthen their governance capacity, incumbents often tolerate, co-opt or collaborate with civil society actors that offer public goods and services to citizens, forging with them what is known as "authoritarian bargains". In China, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has adopted similar practices: while allowing the emergence of a nascent NGO sector along with the market reforms, it maintains a cautious attitude towards NGOs and constantly prevents them from challenging state power. However, in recent years, the Party-state has gained greater confidence and made further advances into civil society. Under the call for social governance, it has encouraged local states to forge formal collaborations with NGOs through procurement, which in turn provide social services in grassroots community. Why do state-NGO collaborations occur, and how do we conceive this emerging collaborative space that involves the state and a multitude of community-based NGOs? How do local states strategize their interaction with NGO partners by balancing control and empowerment in order to promote state interests? What are the impacts of different strategies on the governance capacity of the local states? This thesis seeks to answer these questions by comparing two Guangdong localities - Guangzhou and Nanhai - in terms of their collaboration with NGOs. By focusing on how and why they implement the social governance reforms differently, I argue that while NGO collaborations have generally increased social service provision, the degree of their impact on governance capacity, measured not only in terms of service coverage but also of service diversity and policy leverage, depends largely on the collaborative strategies employed by the local states. Such strategies, as I show, are determined both by the political configuration of the local states and by their strategic choices. For the NGO partners, while most of them behave as compliant service providers in order to survive in the procurement market, some progressive ones have defied the pressure to pursue what I call "service activism", using state linkages and service provision as strategies to engage in rights or policy advocacy. On the whole, these local state-NGO collaborations mark an array of decentralized efforts guided by the Party-state to create a state-sponsored service NGO sector, which aims at not only addressing social needs but also supplanting or even crowding out the grassroots civil society. Although these collaborations, at this stage, may be too limited in scale and effectiveness in order to create substantive impact for the regime, their forms - the disparate collaborative mechanisms forged between local states and NGOs - are likely to increase the adaptive capacity of China's authoritarian system. In sum, a Western-style democratic transition propelled by an autonomous civil society will be unlikely; and political changes towards a more democratic China, if any, will only be slow, protracted and occasionally regressive.
Supervisor: Thornton, Patricia M. Sponsor: Swire Scholarship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available