Making Bureaucracy Accountable: Three Essays on Bureaucratic Accountability in China

Date

2022-12-15

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Abstract

As accountability theories are mostly concentrated on electoral politics, government accountability remains an understudied topic in authoritarian regimes. My dissertation explores China's government accountability through three lenses. First, I examine how administrative decentralization impacts accountability in the context of crisis management. To this end, I constructed an original dataset of 2,355 technological disasters taking place in China since 2001. Capitalizing on China's disaster classification system, I adopt a regression discontinuity design to study how administrative decentralization weakens government accountability. Empirical analysis shows a negative impact of decentralization on government accountability. Given two disasters with similar casualties, the disaster handled by the lower-level government tends to result in fewer public sector employees (PSEs) being disciplined. My analysis further points out that local protectionism might play a role.

Second, given the rising salience of government accountability in the past two decades in China, I examine how the punishment of government employees in the name of accountability could impact political support through the lens of an aircraft crash occurring in March 2022 in mainland China. I conduct a survey experiment by showing accountability information randomly to survey respondents. My analysis shows that accountability sanctions have a significant impact on how the public views the government. When respondents possess a relatively high level of political knowledge, they seem to be indifferent to accountability sanctions compared with respondents who do not receive such information. Under some circumstances, they even heighten their support for the government. However, respondents lacking political knowledge will demonstrate a lower level of trust in and satisfaction with the government once exposed to information about accountability sanctions. This study demonstrates that accountability sanctions could be used to authoritarian rulers' advantage.

My third empirical essay speaks to information access. Despite the increasing integration of the global market, Internet traffic across national borders can be blocked as a result of intentional government behavior. This phenomenon poses big challenges to government accountability, as information is a prerequisite for evaluating government performance and invoking accountability sanctions. Adopting a web-scraping approach, I examine the openness of 17,251 Chinese government websites from locations in 135 countries based on residential proxy IPs. I find that on average, 14.48% of Chinese government websites deny access to foreign visitors. A cross-sectional analysis shows that economic ties, rather than political relations, impact website openness. Additional analyses at the provincial and city levels lend support to my theory that economic globalization promotes government openness. Taken together, my dissertation illuminates both the causes and consequences of bureaucratic accountability in the world's largest emerging market. It demonstrates that both domestic institutions and international markets have an effect on China's bureaucratic accountability, and the increasing salience of accountability is one of the keys to understanding its regime resilience.

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Keywords

Bureaucratic accountability, Decentralization, Disaster politics, Popular support, Globalization, E-governance

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