When China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, conventional wisdom held that global trade rules would act as a credible commitment to domestic reform, generating a “disciplining” effect on state behavior that would restrain Chinese industrial policymaking. And indeed, initial assessments of Chinese economic policy in the early 2000s pointed to the emergence of what might be called a regulatory, market-oriented state. By the second half of the decade, however, scholars were increasingly calling attention to a “rise of industrial policy” and the growing assertiveness of a Chinese “state capitalism”. What lies behind these seemingly contradictory assessments? In this talk, I seek to answer two questions: First, why did the rise of market-oriented institutions in response to WTO entry not constrain the subsequent activism of more interventionist developmental agencies? Second, what explains the timing of these non-linear policy trajectories?
Dominant approaches in international political economy commonly treat the state as a unitary actor, and in particular, tend to ‘black-box’ the behavior of the central state as sovereign representative. In my explanation, I disaggregate the Chinese central state into its major agencies and unpack the divergent policy consequences of relying on WTO rules as a credible commitment to reform. Specifically, this divergence turns on the durability of global trade rules and the political relationship between China’s party and its state. I demonstrate that rather than a uniform convergence to liberalization, WTO rules have intensified the competition within the central state over the direction of economic policy. The result is an enhanced dualism in the governance of the Chinese economy, with intensified market competition promoted by one set of central economic agencies, yet a more consolidated industrial policy promoted by rival agencies.
Yeling Tan is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program (starting Fall 2017). In the fall of 2018, she will join the Department of Political Science at the University of Oregon as an Assistant Professor. Her research interests are in international and comparative political economy, with an emphasis on China and the developing world.
Her dissertation, State Strategies under Global Rules: Chinese Industrial Policy in the WTO Era, examines the divergent strategies that the Chinese state adopted in response to global trade rules that demanded far-reaching modifications to its domestic policies and institutions. This project is part of a long-term research agenda on the domestic politics of globalization in authoritarian states such as China and on the multifaceted strategies deployed by these states to respond to and shape global economic rules. Her research also examines what, in the absence of electoral pressure, causes authoritarian institutions to adapt and evolve.
Prior to her graduate studies, Yeling worked in the public and non-governmental sectors in a range of roles including: global governance and governance innovations research at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy; international development projects at The Asia Foundation; and international security policy in the Singapore Government.
Yeling holds a Ph.D in Public Policy from Harvard University (expected Summer 2017) and an MPA in International Development from the Harvard Kennedy School. She received her B.A. with distinction and honors in International Relations and Economics from Stanford University.