Institutional Cohesion

The Property Rights Law and its extension to land use relations in rural China will depend heavily on implementation by local officials who put the policy purposes of the law ahead of their own parochial interests.142 Enforcement of property transfer requirements by disinterested officials, the availability of impartial judicial review of administrative action in respect of land use rights, and the effective implementation of remedies (particularly compensation) for unlawful expropriation of land all will depend on a cohort of local officials committed to achieving the policy goals underlying the new regime. A key element of this involves the experience and training of local officials to support relative autonomy in property relations. However, as indicated by the broader lack of consensus on policy goals, the tradition of Party rule is one that has repeatedly denigrated the role of private property.143 Training materials and seminars at the Central Party School and regional Party training facilities (even in the cosmopolitan center of Shanghai) often extol the importance of the public ownership system’s socialist ideals.144 At the local level, officials will require comprehensive retraining to shed predispositions against private property relations, and it remains uncertain as to whether there is the political will or the capacity to bring this about.145

Effective constraints on administrative action by local officials either restraining legitimate autonomy in land use transfers or engaging in arbitrary expropriation of land will require more effective judicial review under the Administrative Litigation Law. While courts in the urban areas are well disposed to grapple with the intricacies of property rights relationships, rural courts remain understaffed and often incapable of exercising effective supervision over local Party officials. Surveys of local courts reveal their embeddedness in local communitarian society and their dependency on local political authorities.146 Acting more like magistrates or justices of the peace, local judges often have neither the training nor the experience—let alone the political protection—to effectively confront administrative abuses by local officials. This further undermines the capacity for institutional cohesion in local property regime institutions.

As well, corruption is a well-known feature of regulatory life in China, particularly at the local level, with significant costs for economic growth and social wellbeing.147 As China’s property regime purports to empower government departments to oversee property relations, China’s property system also privileges local business interests. Local Party cadres are often invested either personally or for policy reasons with large business interests who are seen as a major component of China’s economic growth miracle and are also viewed as essential to maintaining satisfactory levels of employment. Assessments of local cadre performance in rural development are heavily influenced by the imperative to maintain levels of economic growth and employment. As a result, local officials have little incentive to respond to issues of preservation of social relations in land or popular calls for sustainable land use, instead often opting to maintain economic growth at all costs and to protect enterprise autonomy from intrusive regulation.148 The symbiotic relationship between local officials and large business interests invites problems of corruption and particularly the tendency to place the parochial interests of officials ahead of the policy goals of the new Property Rights Law and associated regulatory regimes. Thus, issues of institutional cohesion, combined with those of institutional purpose, location, and orientation, suggest that implementation of the Property Rights Law faces ongoing organizational challenges that augment the normative dynamics of Selective Adaptation.

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