The Role of the State in The Expansion of the Itp Sector in China


The Chinese state played a critical role in the expansion of the ITP sector in Southern China using both economic and extra-economic instruments. These instruments tend to put forward, modify, or block the certain direction of land- use change and then essentially promote or impede the rise of the ITP sector, both directly and indirectly. Moreover, these instruments could also influence social relations around the ITP sector - in terms of who is excluded, who is included, who benefits, and who loses.

However, the hierarchical administrative system in rural China means that the role of the state is even more complicated than the above suggests: the role it plays may vary between different levels of government and change across time and space. Specifically, central and local governments might hold differing attitudes towards the ITP sector; the local state in one place might facilitate investment in the ITP sector, while at the same time another may issue a policy to remove ITPs; and one local government may at first push for the development of the ITP sector, only to curb its expansion later. So, why and when and at which level the state plays what kind of role within ITP expansion deserves systematic study.

So, to identify and untangle the complementary and/or contradictory roles of ‘the state’ at various jurisdictional levels, taking the expansion of industrial tree plantations in Southern China as a case study, will provide specific insights into the working of the state within the process of capital accumulation. It will also open up an agenda for a more complex framework of the state in order to deepen an understanding of state and its role.

There are basically three frameworks to understand the state and its role in public policy: namely, “state-centric”, “society-centric”, and “interactive state- society” (Das 2007; Fox 1993). As already discussed in Chapter 1, the state-centric and society-centric perspectives cannot fully capture the dynamics of the political process. This chapter will therefore apply the “interactive state-society” framework: an alternative framework put forward by several scholars, including Fox in the case of Mexico (1993), to understand the dynamic role of the state. This framework reveals the contradictory functions of the state, namely, facilitating capital accumulation and maintaining political legitimacy, which is valid not only in Mexico (Fox 1993) but also in China (Chen, Zinda, and Yeh 2017).

However, the state-society paradigm per se, which neglects the “nuances of intra-societal and intra-state variations” (Perry 1994, 709), cannot fully capture the competing jurisdictions following decentralization in China. As suggested by Oi (1995, 1147), “one should disaggregate the ‘state’ into its component parts to distinguish between levels of government and the incentives for different levels to perform”. Similarly, O’Brien and Li (2004, 94) concluded: “what emerges is a state that is less a monolith than a hodgepodge of disparate actors, some of whom have multiple identities and conflicting interests. Disaggregating the Chinese state highlights its segmented, layered structure”. This reminds us to disaggregate the multi-level state in order to get a better understanding of politics in rural China.

Echoing this, some studies noticed the layered bureaucratic system of the state. These studies fall mainly into two groups, namely, the competing approach and the cooperation approach. Under the competing approach, scholars view the local state not as the subordinated agent of the central state to implement the policy made at the higher level, but as an entity with divergent, even contradictory, interests. Within this trend, Oi (1995, 1139) found that local governments also have “entrepreneurial interests” rather than being the purely “agents of the central state”. Similarly, Lu (1997, 130) observed the tensions/conflicts between “the state” (central state) and “the state agents” (local state). More radically, So (2007, 560) used the framework of the “split state” - “one ‘benign’ centre and a ‘predatory’ local apparatus” - to analyse rural politics.

Meanwhile, scholars who adhere to the cooperation approach believe that the central and local state share some common interests and mutually influence each other. Li (1997) believes that the central and provincial state are interdependent, and that conflicts and compromises between different layers lead to policy adjustments as part of the reform processes. Later, she explained decentralization as the central government’s strategy to distinguish itself from the local state in order to find scapegoats on which to “blame policy failures on implementation details and front-line state workers” (Li 2007, 95). Based on such a frame-work, Gobel (2011) recognized in the “uneven policy implementation” in different locations the “policy steering instruments” used in rural China; namely, “competition under hierarchy”, and concluded that “both pioneers and resisters contribute to shaping the policy outcomes” (76).

Both of these approaches miss some critical points. The competing approach can help understand some divergences between the central and local state, while viewing the central and local state separately may fail to explain some local state actions which align themselves with the policies of higher authorities but might affect their revenue generation negatively. To give an example, some county governments, following of the lead given by the provincial government, issued policies to remove eucalyptus trees planted on farmland, despite the fact that the ITP sector contributes a large sum to local revenue. In this sense, the cooperation approach provides better insights with which to understand central-local state relations. However, it lacks discussions on the state-society paradigm and is thus not able to explain the changing attitude of the state across time.

80 The role of the state

To better understand the role of the state within the expansion of ITPs in a dynamic and relational way, this chapter applies the interactive state-society framework and considers the variegated but integrated intra-state variations, the so-called coupled interactive approach. To put it in another way, it employs an “interactive state-society” framework to understand the role of the state, while at the same times utilizing the “cooperative” approach to understand central-local state dynamics.

This chapter is structured as follows. The next part offers a preliminary introduction to China’s hierarchical state framework. The third part analyses the coupled actions/reactions of the state at different levels - central, provincial, and local levels - related to the ITP sector. The fourth part explores the dynamic state’s relationship with capital and society, and the change in its different developmental stages.

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