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Path Selection for the Reform of Planning Management Agencies and Modernization of Spatial Governance in China
Su Dong, Liu Jian
Abstract In recent years, with the profound changes of “promoting the modernization of the national governance system and capacity,” the reform of state institutions has become an important measure and step. In the field of planning management, the establishment of the Ministry of Natural Resources plays a crucial role in the institutional reform over the years. This paper discusses the reform of planning management from the perspective of the public management and urban planning discipline, and tries to explore the internal logic between “institutional reform” and “governance modernization.” It demonstrates the interweaving and transforming process between the adjustment of planning agencies and national governance, discussing whether the establishment of the Ministry of Natural Resources has responded to the path selection of governance modernization. The paper makes a diachronic analysis on the 13 state institutional reforms since the founding of People’s Republic of China, especially on the adjustment process of planning management agencies. It builds an “institution-governance” analysis framework with the three elements including institution, function, and management as its core and with the institutional strength and governance effectiveness as the entry and exit, and analyzes the parallel transitions of planning management agencies and spatial governance logic as well as the necessary undertaking mechanisms, with the aim to provide reference for the establishment of a new pattern of spatial governance.
Keywords planning management; institutional reform; national governance; territorial and spatial planning system




1. Introduction

In a new historical context, in the face of complicated development issues and practical contradictions, China started to carry out comprehensive and deepened reforms. In 2013, with the proposal of “modernization of China’s governance system and capacity” by the Central Government, for the first time, “governance,” an academic concept, began to rise to the level of the state system. In 2019, the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) proposed to “transform institutional strength into effective governance,” which closely linked the national institutional system with its implementation effectiveness, and further emphasized the “modernization of China’s governance system and capacity.” How to continuously improve the national institutional system and promote its execution effectiveness to meet the requirements of the modernization of China’s governance system and capacity, has become a hot topic in the fields of political research, public administration, and urban studies.

 

In the development process of national governance, the adjustment and optimization of state institutions has always been a topic of continuous concern in the society and academia. Since 1949, the Central Government has carried out distinctive periodical institutional reforms. There have been 13 reforms, having a frequency and intensity that is rare in the world. In the field of planning management in China, the large number, the rapid changes, and the complexity of internal adjustments of planning management agencies have brought about great difficulties to the formulation and implementation of planning and related studies. Such changes are still unable to be clearly depicted in the academic field up to now. According to the statistics of this study, over the past 70 years, more than 10 planning management agencies have been continuously restructured, merged, abolished, and renamed; more than 90 plans have been compiled with authorization; and more than 40,000 planning-related policies have been promulgated. Under the “segmented” administrative system, due to a lack of coordination among different departments, planning functions are overlapping, scattered, and fragmented. Planning results are disconnected with or even contradictory to each other. In order to change the status quo of the planning field, the state has once again integrated the planning functions of different departments in recent years, and achieved the integration of planning management and the unification of planning formulation by rebuilding the planning system, thus initiating a new round of reform in the planning field.

 

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, what adjustments have been made to planning management agencies in the previous reforms of state institutions? What are the evolutionary laws of the adjustments of planning management agencies? Have the above reforms and adjustments adapted to the path of national governance modernization, and how? The paper is an attempt to answer these questions.

 

2. “Institution-governance” analysis framework

Institutions are an important carrier of government functions and management structure, and the evolution of state institutional reforms is also, to some extent, the evolution of national governance logic. From the perspective of “institution,” by use of the “institution-governance” analysis framework, this paper analyzes the connotations of the national governance system and capacity in the new era, and takes planning management as a specific case for analysis.

 

2.1 Definition of elements

2.1.1 State institutions

From the perspective of political science, “state institutions” is a general term for a complete set of state organs established by a country to realize its functions (Zhu, 2001). Horizontally, they are divided into head of state, legislative organs, administrative organs, judicial organs, military organs, etc.; vertically, they are divided into the central state organs and local state organs that are established according to administrative regions. In addition, social organizations and local autonomous bodies that undertake certain state functions are an extension of the connotation of “state institutions.” In this paper, the component departments of the State Council (that is, the Central People’s Government) are taken as the main analysis objects of “state institutions.” The “state institutions” and “planning management agencies” in the paper are at the level of the Central Government and do not involve different local institutional setups for the time being.

 

Except the studies on the definition of state institutions from the perspectives of jurisprudence and political science by Zhu Guanglei (2001), Leslie Lipson (2001), and other Chinese and foreign scholars, many studies in recent years have focused on dynamic institutional reforms. Since 1949, China has carried out a series of distinctive reforms of state institutions periodically, which are basically consistent with the frequency of the CPC National Congress that is held every five years, and are voted and approved by the highest authority (i.e., the National People’s Congress). Vertically, the institutional reform is performed in a top-down manner, and local governments can make specific adjustments in line with their actual conditions. Therefore, in related studies, scholars tend to pay more attention to the adjustments made by the Central Government in the institutional reform, so as to carry out general research and analysis. This type of research can be divided into two perspectives of “function” and “management”: the former believes that the reform of state institutions has realized the transformation of government functions, and has promoted the continuous optimization and adjustment of institutional functions in some key areas on this basis (Wang, 2015; Song, 2018); while the latter, from the perspectives of administrative and organizational management, focuses on the coordination and interaction mechanism in the reform of state institutions, such as the idea of establishing a system of greater ministries (Zhou and Xu, 2014; Zhu and Li, 2009; Shi and Shi, 2008; Ma, 1999). However, due to the repetitive process and complex content of the reform of state institutions, existing studies still need further improvements in terms of analyzing the context for the diachronic reforms of state institutions, clues to the evolution of a certain type of institution, as well as systematic analysis that integrates other governance elements.

 

2.1.2 Planning management agencies

Planning management agencies are a subset of state institutions. The planning management agencies at the Central Government level specifically refer to the departments (such as ministries, administrations, and commissions) that perform planning management-related functions in the central administrative organ and take planning text compilation, planning technical methods, etc., as management tools. In recent years, some studies have noticed the impacts of the adjustments of planning management agencies on the spatial planning system, spatial governance pattern, and urban and rural planning industry, but they have mainly focused on the transformation of specific methods, functional positioning, and implementation mechanisms of planning management in the future (Zhang and Chen, 2014; Wang, 2019; Luo, Jiang, and Qiu, 2019). Among the little literature that takes “planning management agencies” as its research object, Zhang Shaokang (2016), using the planning compilation agencies as an example, analyzed the predicament of the planning market and the planning industry from a micro level; Li Hao (2019), for the first time, reviewed the establishment and development process of the national planning management agencies in the early days of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. However, in the existing studies, there is no diachronic research that takes the planning management agencies in a general sense as the research object. As a result, there is a need to figure out the evolution of governance paths behind the adjustments of planning management agencies from the macro level of national governance. The “planning management agency” in this paper is a generalized concept, including not only spatial planning management agencies but also development planning management agencies, with the aim to observe the changes of China’s planning management agencies more completely.

 

2.1.3 Modernization of national governance

Regarding the definition of “modernization of governance,” society and academia have not yet reached a clear consensus. The modernization of the national governance system and capacity is the goal of national governance, and its connotations are being continuously enriched in practice. According to the definition proposed in the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, the national governance system and capacity can be regarded as an organic whole in the political process. The “national governance system” is an institutional system of a country, and the “national governance capacity” is the execution ability of the system. In the transformation process of national governance, the traditional “planning management” is also undergoing changes. This paper interprets the modernization of national governance from the two aspects of governance system and governance capacity, and in combination with the changes in planning management agencies, functions, and management tools, explores the changes in the governance modernization paths marked by the improvement of institutional system and the promotion of implementation efficiency.

 

2.2 Framework deconstruction

Based on the consensus on the concept of state institutions, this paper builds an “institution-governance” analysis framework (see Figure 1), which takes “institutions” as visible entities of the governance system and probes into the organic framework of the entire national governance system and capacity from the first-person perspective. By analyzing the position and role of institutions in the national governance system, the paper reveals the adjustment and evolution of state institutions over the years, and explores how they are adapted to and influences the changes and development of national governance.

 

 

Figure 1 Deconstruction of the “institution-governance” framework

 

According to the definition of the concept, the national governance system and capacity are a concentrated expression of a country’s institutional system and its execution ability. Among them, the national governance system is an institutional system that administers the country under the leadership of the CPC, including systems and mechanisms as well as laws and regulations of various fields such as politics, economy, culture, society, and ecological civilization, which is a set of closely connected and inter-coordinated systems; the national governance capacity is the ability of the national governance body to use the state systems to handle the affairs of all aspects of the society. State institutions are the most important body of national governance: they are not only an important component of the national governance system, but also a carrier of the national governance capacity. “Institution,” “function,” and “management,” as the body, content, and tool of execution in the institutional system respectively, are key elements to determine the execution ability of the system. Among them, “institutions,” as the actual carrier of the institutional system, are the core starting point of this study. It refers to the related ministries, administrations, commissions of the State Council, including internal departments, staff size, responsibilities, positions, budgets, etc., which undertake specific functions and carry out management. “Function” is the arrangement of powers and responsibilities in the institutional system according to development requirements and external environmental changes, which is undertaken by the body of execution of an institution. “Management,” as the organizational method and technical tool of the institutional system, includes decision making, planning, implementation, coordination and functional division, supervision and evaluation, and technological application, which is the power means that can be used by the body of execution of an institution.

 

In general, functional transformation is a prerequisite for institutional reform. Although the main functions in different periods will change with the influence of different governance concepts, the basic functions of the government are relatively stable. Institutional reform is the specific embodiment of functional transformation in the adjustment of organizational structure, which is influenced by the power-responsibility relationship and has a rather complicated evolutionary context. The innovation of management tools is an important guarantee for the realization of functions as well as for the optimization, coordination, and efficient operation of institutions. Being closely connected and interlocked, these three elements form an internal mechanism for the coherent governance system and capacity, which then integrates institutional strength into the governance process and ultimately improves the national governance effectiveness.

 

Taking the field of planning management as an example, planning management agencies are the administrative body of the state that carries out planning management. They implement various guidelines and policies related to spatial governance by formulating various planning documents and bringing these documents into practice through administrative permits. The structural adjustment, functional transformation, and management innovation of planning management agencies are all based on the specific content of spatial governance concepts and public policies of the state, with implementing the national institutional arrangements and improving the national spatial governance effectiveness as their ultimate goals.

 

3. Adjustment and evolution of planning management agencies over the years

Since 1949, in order to adapt to the modernized development of the country, the Central Government has gradually promoted the transformation of national governance through continuous adjustments of state institutions. With planning management agencies as the empirical research object, this paper divides the process into two stages by taking the year 1949 as the starting point and the reform and opening-up in 1978 as a node, and analyzes the adjustment and evolution of state institutions and planning management agencies in the two stages. Based on the “institution-governance” framework, the paper categorizes the planning management functions as the function of social and economic development planning, the function of urban and rural construction planning, the function of land resource planning, and the function of environmental protection planning. Correspondingly, the planning management agencies are divided into comprehensive economic management departments, urban and rural construction management departments, land resource management departments, and environmental protection management departments. Various types of planning, such as the five-year planning for national economic and social development, dominant functional zone planning, new urbanization planning, various statutory urban and rural planning, land use planning, and environmental protection planning, are taken as technical tools of related planning management. On such a basis, the paper reveals the restructuring, renaming, and adjustment of the nature and status of these four types of planning departments, and combines them with the dynamic changes of related planning powers, and then forms a roadmap for the evolution of planning agencies, functions, and management tools (see Figure 2).

 

 

Figure 2 Changes in China’s planning agencies, planning functions, and planning management tools

Notes: ① There were intermittent changes in the institutional setup at this stage. The institutions established during this period and the related functions involved are all included in this paper. ② There were intermittent changes in the institutional setup at this stage. Generally, there was a trend that the structure was transformed from the dual leadership by the National Construction Commission and the State Construction and Engineering Ministry to the unified leadership of the State Construction Commission. ③ Established in 1986.  ④ Established in 1984.

 

3.1 Before the reform and opening-up: cyclical and rigidified reform and co-existence of multiple leadership in the planned economy

Since 1949, more than 300 different agencies have appeared in the institutional setups of the State Council. In terms of the number of agencies and the size of staff, there is a changing trend of “expanding – streamlining – re-expanding – re-streamlining – expanding again – streamlining again – basically stabilizing” (He, 2008). According to published statistical data, it can be found that the reform of state institutions before the reform and opening-up was rather inflexible, political, and irregular, characterized by cyclical reform and repeated expansion (see Table 1). In the context of a planned economy (that is, in which the government governs everything), because of the large number of institutions and overstaffing, the main purpose of the reform was to streamline the expanded institutions. However, on account of the concentrated government power and the rigid management system, it was hard to carry out the transformation of government functions and the innovation of management methods. As a result, the reform measures were often superficial, and the effects of streamlining were mostly temporary, which resulted in a vicious cycle of repeated expansion and streamlining.

 

Table 1 Cyclical reforms of state institutions before the reform and opening-up

 

Source: Sorted according to the open data published on <http://www.gov.cn>, <http://www.china.com.cn>, etc. 

 

Further focusing on the adjustments in specific fields, we can find another characteristic of the adjustment of state institutions at this stage. Taking the adjustment of planning management agencies as an example, in addition to the cyclical and rigidified reform, planning management powers began to be divided by different departments, resulting in a change from “dual leadership” to “multiple leadership,” which might be the earliest origin for the coexistence of multiple plans nowadays.

 

(1) Dual leadership

Before 1954, the planning management agencies were in a situation of having “dual leadership,” mainly centered on the two fields: urban and rural construction management, and comprehensive economic management. ① In the field of urban and rural construction management, in 1949, the Financial and Economic Committee of the Government Administration Council (referred to as the “Central Financial Committee” hereinafter) established the Basic Construction Planning Department under the Planning Bureau, which became the earliest planning management agency of the People’s Republic of China. In 1952, at the suggestion of Mr. Liang Sicheng, the Central Financial Committee established a subordinate unit – the Construction and Engineering Ministry. Under it, the Urban Construction Bureau was established, which performed the function of urban planning and became the earliest management agency in China with technique-based urban planning as its leading business. In 1954, the administrative status of the Construction and Engineering Ministry changed, and it was upgraded to the General Administration of Urban Construction, which was directly under the State Council and established the Central Urban Design Institute under it. The physical and technical nature of urban planning gradually became prominent. ② In the field of comprehensive economic management, the State Planning Commission was established in 1952, and the Urban Planning Bureau was established under it in 1953. This bureau was still rooted in the Basic Construction Planning Department under the Planning Bureau of the Central Financial Committee, thus having the same origin as the Urban Construction Bureau of the Construction and Engineering Ministry. From 1953 to 1954, with the constant strengthening of the functions of both bureaus, a planning management pattern was gradually formed, in which although the two bureaus were relatively independent, they were also interwoven.

 

(2) Multiple leadership

From 1954 to 1956, with the development of national construction and the gradual expansion of the State Council departments, the planning management work, as being highly comprehensive, complicated, and long-term, began to involve several different departments such as transportation, health, and construction. In addition to the existing Urban Construction Bureau of the Construction and Engineering Ministry as well as the Urban Planning Bureau of the State Planning Commission, a number of different agencies were established in the urban and rural construction management field and in the comprehensive economic management field respectively. The State Construction Commission was established in 1954, which was restructured in 1958 into the State Basic Construction Commission (also called the “Second Construction Commission”) and was abolished in 1961; in 1965, the State Basic Construction Commission (also called the “Third Construction Commission”) was re-established, which was ultimately abolished in 1982, and the related departments of it were merged into the Ministry of Urban and Rural Construction and Environmental Protection. At the same time, the National Economy Commission was established in 1956, which, as a department of comprehensive macro control, was mainly in charge of formulating five-year plans and other annual plans. It was abolished in 1970 for the first time, and related functions of it were merged into the State Planning Commission. In 1978, the National Economy Commission was re-established, which was ultimately abolished in 1988 and merged into the State Planning Commission. In addition, a number of relevant ministries, such as the Ministry of Urban Services, the Ministry of Urban Construction, and the Ministry of Building Material Industry, were also established in 1956.

 

In summary, in the planned economy system, the planning management agencies were mainly concentrated in two fields: urban and rural construction management and comprehensive economic management. The function of urban and rural construction planning and that of development planning were mixed, and the physical and technical nature of planning management were prominent. The State Construction Commission, the State Planning Commission, and the National Economy Commission took the lead respectively, presenting a situation of cyclical adjustment, functional mixing, rigid management, and multiple leadership, which failed to initiate the national governance forcefully.

 

3.2 After the reform and opening-up: stabilization, normalization, and innovation in the socialist market economy

Since the reform and opening-up, China had carried out 8 periodic and large-scale reforms of state institutions from 1982 to 2018 (see Table 2). In line with the work focus and driving goals of each development stage, the government had made adjustments to the institutional setup and the division of powers once every five years, so the change of the institutional scale gradually became stabilized.

 

Table 2 Changes in the reforms of China’s state institutions from 1982 to 2018

 

Source: Sorted according to the open data published on <http://www.gov.cn>, <http://www.china.com.cn>, etc.

 

 

In this context, planning management agencies have also shown regular adjustments and changes. The interweaving of planning functions and management tools has gradually become clarified: planning functions cover four dimensions, namely, social and economic development, urban and rural construction, land resource, and environmental protection; in terms of management tools, they have changed from vision-oriented, prescriptive, and technical planning to dynamic, normalized, and integrated planning.

 

(1) In terms of comprehensive economic management

With the reform of state institutions in 1988, the related functions of the National Economy Commission were merged into the State Planning Commission; in the two reforms of state institutions in 1998 and 2003, it was restructured and renamed as the State Development Planning Commission and the National Development and Reform Commission respectively. During this period, its function of comprehensive development planning gradually became clear. It became the leading body of the national comprehensive development planning, and took the five-year planning for national economic and social development, the dominant functional zone planning, the new urbanization planning, and other planning systems as main technical tools for its management.

 

(2) In terms of urban and rural construction management

After the reform and opening-up, the Ministry of Urban and Rural Construction and Environmental Protection was established, which was renamed as the “Ministry of Construction” and the “Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development” in the two reforms of state institutions in 1988 and 2008. In 1984 and 1986, the original functions of environmental protection planning and land resource management planning were detached. From 1986 to 2018, it took various types of statutory urban and rural planning as technical tools for its management, and performed the function of national urban and rural construction planning.

 

(3) In terms of land resource management

Starting from 1986, with the establishment of the State Land Administration, the function of land resource planning began to be separated from the function of urban and rural construction planning. In 1998, under the background of the forceful reform of state institutions, the national land management increasingly became an important part of national governance, and the administrative status of relevant agencies began to change. The Ministry of Land and Resources directly under the State Council was established at that time. In 2018, it was restructured into the Ministry of Natural Resources. In addition to the function of land use planning, the Ministry has integrated the function of dominant functional zone planning that previously belonged to the comprehensive economic management departments and the function of statutory urban and rural planning that previously belonged to the urban and rural construction management departments, as well as related management tools of them, with the aim to push forward the establishment of the territorial and spatial planning system.

 

(4) In terms of environmental protection management

In 1984, the State Bureau of Environmental Protection was established. With the increase of China’s emphasis on environmental protection and the proposal of the ecological civilization concept, the administrative status of the bureau was upgraded twice: it was restructured into the State Administration of Environmental Protection in 1998 and the “Ministry of Environmental Protection” in 2008. In the deepened reform of state institutions in 2018, it was restructured and renamed as the “Ministry of Ecology and Environment.” For more than 30 years, it has always used the environmental protection planning as a technical tool for its management and performed the function of environmental protection related planning.

 

4. Spatial governance logic in the adjustments of planning management agencies

As mentioned above, the planning management in China is based on the concept and the institutional system of national spatial governance, and its ultimate goal is to implement the institutional system of spatial governance and improve the effectiveness of national spatial governance. The reform process of state institutions and the adjustment and evolution of planning management agencies are not just simple processes of abolishment, splitting, merging, and restructuring of institutions; they also demonstrate the continuous changes in the concept of spatial governance in the modernization process of national governance. The laws contained herein can be regarded as a kind of governance logic. Based on the “institution-governance” framework, and from the three perspectives of “institution,” “function,” and “management,” it can be found that there are three kinds of spatial governance logic in the process of institutional reform.

 

4.1 Dynamics of spatial governance embedded in normal

From the perspective of “institution,” state institutions, historically, have seen diverse types and frequent adjustments, with complicated functions and management methods. The reforms of state institutions, especially the adjustments of planning management agencies, have shown three modes of streamlining, adaption, and mixing, with the characteristics of compatibility, comprehensiveness, and adaptivity. So, what is the internal driving force for the repeated adjustments of planning management agencies? Why do they show the above-mentioned characteristics? In order to explore the spatial governance logic herein, these two questions need to be answered.

 

In terms of the reason, for the “invisible” concept of national governance, institutions are the most direct, accessible, and “visible” carrier, and there is a corresponding relationship between the adjustment process of institutions and the evolution of the governance system. Therefore, the adjustments of planning management agencies over the years can be regarded as a response and synchronization to the concept of national spatial governance and the overall thought of institutional reform. Taking the adjustments of land resource management agencies as an example, before 1998, influenced by the governance concept that gave priority to construction, the function of land resource management was decentralized in land, geology, surveying and mapping, and oceanic management departments, and the administrative status of land resource management departments was always lower than that of urban and rural construction management departments. In 1988, the Ministry of Land and Resources was established in the context of the large-scale restructuring of ministries and commissions during the 4th institutional reform, and the importance of land resources became increasingly prominent in the national governance. In 2008, the functions were adjusted in line with the new ideas regarding state institutional reform, in which direct intervention in the market was weakened while the function of macro control was strengthened. On the one hand, the ministry delegated the power and responsibility in land evaluation, evaluation of mining rights, appraisal agency for mineral resource reserves, and qualification accreditation to the industrial associations in this field; on the other hand, the ministry implemented the strictest land management system, in order to strengthen the role of national land planning and land use master planning in regulating the demand and supply of land and the overall balance. In 2013, in line with the new orientation of the national resource strategy in the new era, through restructuring the State Oceanic Administration was established, and the management functions of the Ministry of Land and Resources were further expanded. In 2018, with an emphasis on the concept of ecological civilization and the strength of state system, the Ministry of Natural Resources was established, which required strengthening the overall planning and management of land and space from the top-level design. Throughout the adjustment process of land resource management agencies, the restructuring, renaming, and improvement of the administrative status every time is a response to the concept of spatial governance, accompanied by the integration and coordination of related functions as well as the adjustment and innovation of planning management tools.

 

In essence, the adjustments of China’s planning management agencies are typical adaptive reforms, which always present a “separation-integration” rhythm, and will not stay in a certain pattern for a long time. They demonstrate a logic in the dynamic adaption of national spatial governance to the social and economic development. This kind of dynamic adjustment of spatial governance characterized by separation and integration, in fact, is a normal law, in which the institutional adjustment of the moment is only a static, partial, and temporary result. The dynamic reforms should be viewed rationally from the perspective of long-term development.

 

4.2 Transformation of spatial governance from “being closed” to “opening up”

From the perspective of “function,” in the process of the government’s emphasis shifting from political ruling to the function of social management, the role of governance has experienced a three-stage transition: from “command-based,” to “control-based,” and then to “service-oriented.” The main functions of various types of planning management have also undergone alternate development.

 

(1) Command-based governance and prescriptive political planning

From 1949 to 1978, the Chinese government was basically a “command-based government” in the highly centralized planned economy system. At this stage, in order to stabilizing the state power and developing national construction, the government took consolidating the people’s democratic dictatorship as its main goal, so the institutional setup was rather political and prescriptive. In such a context, the social system and government functions remained unchanged, the function of planning management was more of a vision-oriented tool, and the adjustments of planning management agencies were repeated and cyclical with results failing to meet expectations.

 

(2) Control-based governance and instructed developmental planning

During the period from 1978 to 1998, the development path of taking “economic development as the center” determined that the government’s functions were more focused on economic development. On the basis of giving play to the role of market entities, policy tools were used to carry out macro control, which formed the characteristics of “control-based government.” The four institutional reforms from 1982 to 1998 were all aimed at establishing a government function system that was adaptive to the market economy system, which used administrative approvals, government-enterprise cooperation, and other regulatory methods as management tools to handle the relationship between the government and the market. During this period, among the four types of planning management agencies, only the State Planning Commission and the Ministry of Construction were ministry-level institutions directly under the State Council, while the State Land Administration and the State Bureau of Environmental Protection that existed in the same period were both sub-ministerial departments. The difference in administrative status between departments highlighted the importance of the two functions of comprehensive economic planning management and urban and rural construction planning management, and planning management played a more prominent role in guiding economic development and urban and rural construction.

 

(3) Service-oriented governance and integrated social planning

Entering the 21st century, democracy and the rule of law, fairness and justice, and harmony between man and nature have gradually become the goals of national governance. In this context, with the requirements of social development, the government’s functions have been further transformed to handle the relationship between the government, the market, and the society. As a result, the government’s social construction and public service functions have been increasingly emphasized, and the role of a public service-oriented government has been strengthened, which is reflected by the increasing number of social management departments. In particular, the deepened reform of state institutions in 2018 focused on improving the national governance system and promoting governance effectiveness, which took high-quality development as the governance goal and carried out large-scale adjustments to the institutional setup in key fields. In terms of planning management, since the establishment of the Ministry of Land and Resources in 1998 and the Ministry of Environmental Protection in 2008, planning management of land resources and that of environmental protection have successively become key functions. In 2018, the Ministry of Natural Resources was established in the context of the construction of ecological civilization, which was aimed to make overall arrangements for all the resource development and utilization activities and ecological environmental protection activities within China’s territory, so as to build a territorial and spatial planning system. So far, planning management has been not only a tool for the state to govern and guide the economic and social development, but also a common platform to carry social interaction and realize people’s pursuit of ideals (Zhang and Chen, 2014). The improvement of various management methods, such as the assessment of land resources, establishment of a data platform, and approval of planning permits, have facilitated the improvement of national spatial governance effectiveness.

 

In summary, the three-stage transformation of planning functions is actually a process in which planning management continues to break through the organizational constraints of government departments, and various types of planning management-related businesses, information, and resources flow to the market and the civil society. Spatial co-governance and sharing are emphasized, which reflects the spatial governance logic that shifts from being closed to opening up.

 

4.3 Integrated spatial governance as a trend

From the perspective of “management,” both the reform of state institutions and the adjustment of planning management agencies have shown a trend of “integrated governance.” In 2008, the scheme of state institutional reform emphasized “straightening out the relationship between departments and exploring the establishment of greater ministries with organically unified functions.” In 2013, the reform of state institutions once again emphasized “cancelling what must be cancelled, decentralizing what must be decentralized, and integrating what must be integrated.” That is, through the establishment of a system of greater ministries and the integration between planning management related departments, the aim was to build a new government organizational system, push forward the transformation of government functions, and improve the effectiveness of national spatial governance. At present, simple merging and streamlining of institutions is no longer the main goal of state institutional reforms (see Figure 3). The connotation of integrated governance is not limited to the staffing integration of institutions, but more emphasis is placed on the effective adjustment of management structures as well as an optimization of the overall efficiency. Taking the reform of planning management agencies in 2018 as an example, the establishment of the Ministry of Natural Resources was intended to solve long-standing problems in the national spatial governance, such as the unreasonable division and fragmentation of institutional functions, as well as the resulting waste of resources and low administrative efficiency. Starting with the organizational structure and management mode, through the integration and adjustment of institutions and the establishment of a unified data platform, and taking space as a resource for management, it was aimed to establish a “multi-plan integration” system in China, push forward the transformation of government functions, and improve spatial governance effectiveness with service-oriented governance and integrated planning. The trend of integrated governance is not only the innovation of management methods but also the evolution of management structure, which has become another important logic of spatial governance, so as to realize the modern spatial governance characterized by coordination and collaboration, co-governance and sharing, and high quality and high efficiency.

 

 

Figure 3 Changes in the staff size of state institutions

Source: Sorted according to the open data published on <http://www.gov.cn>, <http://www.china.com.cn>, etc.

 

5. Where to go: reflections on spatial governance in the new era

In recent years, the establishment of the territorial and spatial planning system has become an essential part of spatial governance in the new era (see Figure 4). As an important institutional reform for the construction of ecological civilization as well as a measure for the restructuring of the governance system in China (Zhang and Xia, 2019), the territorial and spatial planning system has risen to the height of “national governance” and become part of the institutional system in the modern governance system in the “institution-governance” framework. As the leading agency for the territorial and spatial planning, the Ministry of Natural Resources is an important implementation body that performs related planning management functions. At the same time, according to the nature of planning as a public policy, planning management is also a political process, and the organizational management, management platform, and management tools (including planning texts, techniques, etc.) of the territorial and spatial planning also belong to the domain of “management.” In this context that systems and concepts such as the Five-Sphere Integrated Plan, the construction of ecological civilization, and the national spatial governance system are implemented in China, the establishment of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the construction of the territorial and spatial planning system are aimed at promoting the transformation of planning functions and the innovation of planning management methods through the adjustment of planning management agencies. They are important paths to promoting the spatial governance effectiveness in the new era, which are complementary to the improvement of the state institutional system in the new era, so as to jointly promote the modernization of the national governance system and capacity.

 

 

Figure 4 Deconstruction of the “institution-governance” system from the perspective of territorial and spatial planning

 

However, “spatial governance” actually covers a number of complex contents including land and construction. It attaches importance not only to the effective use of land resources, but also to the feature and order of construction space. And it also pays attention not only to the spatial development in the future, but also to the spatial protection from the historical view. It determines that the improvement of spatial governance effectiveness cannot be achieved by a single agency (such as the Ministry of Natural Resources); instead, the division and coordination of functions between related agencies are needed. This is also the experience that we have gained from the adjustments of planning management agencies over the years.

 

Looking back on the adjustments of planning management agencies in more than 70 years and the three spatial governance logics herein, we need to consider that what kind of department or how many departments the so-called “space” should belong to, and what relationship and interplay should exist between different departments. It can be said that in the coming period, the spatial governance pattern will be gradually formed along with the continuous dynamic adjustment of various agencies. The issue of spatial governance in the new era still requires careful considerations.

 

First, every spatial governance body should rationally understand the role of institutional adjustment in the transformation of national governance. No matter whether it is the reform of state institutions or the adjustment of planning management agencies, the changes in institutions are always adaptive to the development of the times, so it is hard to tell whether a reform mode is good or bad. As a result, in the process of spatial governance, we should not pay too much attention to whether the planning management agencies are separated or integrated at a certain point in time. Instead, we should take a long-term perspective and rationally look at the institutional adjustments and the changes in national governance modes over the years. The adjustment of planning management agencies is only part of the process of improving the effectiveness of national spatial governance. It is neither the start nor the end of spatial governance reform. The institutional form in the future may still undergo changes of various forms. What the spatial governance bodies need to do is to always grasp the logic herein, and always define their positions as guided by the goals of governance.

 

Second, the spatial governance body should also recognize the opposite effects of institutional adjustment on the transformation of governance. On the one hand, the adjustment of planning management agencies that is carried out once every five years may be too frequent, resulting in the inconsistency in the institutional setup between the central and local governments, which can affect the effectiveness of top-down implementation of spatial governance; on the other hand, the problem that the previous spatial planning system is chaotic, in essence, is caused by the mismatch between the operational inertia of the spatial planning system and the inherent requirements of rapid spatio-temporal development. So basically, it is still an issue of the efficiency of the government management system. Institutional adjustment may reduce the obstacles of the original management system; however, it may also bring about new contradictions to it. For example, before the establishment of the territorial and spatial planning system, many contradictions were hidden and scattered among different departments. After the integration of planning agencies and planning setups respectively, not only the previous contradictions became more concentrated, but new contradictions caused by the integration also appeared, which hindered the territorial and spatial planning process to some extent. In fact, if the fundamental demands of different departments and power boundaries between them cannot be clearly demarcated, it is impossible to solve problems simply by the merging of different agencies and the transfer of functions and tools. Of course, the emergence of new contradictions is inevitable. Only by continuously discovering new problems in the process of integration and adjustment, can the fundamental contradictions in the spatial governance be settled.

 

Third, the real driving force for the modernization of national spatial governance is not the institutional adjustment, but the overall structural optimization and efficiency improvement of the “institution-governance” system. The coordinated and cooperative action between various bodies should be the key to improving the overall effectiveness of spatial governance in the next step. Although the establishment of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the building of territorial and spatial planning system are one of the reasonable choices to improve the effectiveness of spatial governance, the effective implementation of the spatial governance system still requires a series of functional transformations and management changes after the institutional reform. The development logic of China’s spatial governance, which shifts from being closed to opening up, is to warn people that the consensus of the modern society does not mean to create unified public actions and uniform actors (Xia, 2020). Guided by the logic of integrated governance, the pace of reform should not stop at the simple institutional integration and the establishment of data platforms; more importantly, from the systematic perspective, efforts should be made to build effective and efficient coordination and feedback mechanisms, to properly handle the internal relationship of relevant planning management agencies as well as the horizontal and vertical inter-governmental relationship, and to establish important networks for the relationship between the government, the market, and the public, between economic development and ecological protection, and between urbanization efficiency and social equity. On the one hand, through a rational division of functions and smooth coordination, efforts should be made to maximally improve the governance effectiveness, so as to avoid falling into the previous vicious cycle of reform caused by selfish departmentalism. On the other hand, the planning management agencies should continue to improve themselves according to the development needs, optimize the internal departmental structure, and improve the communication mechanism between the central and local governments, so as to actively adapt themselves to the transformation of spatial governance in the new era.

 

 

(Acknowledgement: This study is supported by the project “Research on the Integration Methods of Digital Urban Planning Technology” in the Key Program “Research and Development of New Technologies of Digital Urban Planning” (2017YFE0118600) of International Scientific and Technological Innovation and Cooperation Between State Governments; the National Natural Science Foundation Project “Land Property Rights, Land Consolidation, and Rural Planning: A Study on the Implementation Mechanism of Coordinated Utilization of Rural Collective-Owned Construction Land” (Project Number: 51678326).)

 

 

From City Planning Review, 2020, 44 (12), pp. 18 – 27.

 

 

Notes:

① According to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, the “state institutions” of China are composed of organs of state power, administrative organs, supervisory organs, judicial organs, procuratorial organs, and military organs. At the central level, “state institutions” include the National People’s Congress, Chairman, the State Council (Central People’s Government), the Central Military Commission, the National Supervisory Commission, the Supreme People’s Court, and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. At the local level, “state institutions” include local people’s congresses, local people’s governments, local supervisory committees, and local people’s courts, and local people’s procuratorates at various levels.

 

② Before 1954, it was called the “Government Administration Council,” which will not be explained hereinafter.

 

③ According to the Notice of the State Council on Institutional Setups on Mar. 22, 2018, in addition to the “component departments,” the State Council has general offices, directly affiliated special agencies, directly affiliated agencies, offices, directly affiliated public institutions, and state bureaus under the management of ministries and commissions.

 

④ In 2019, the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee approved the Decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Some Major Issues Concerning Upholding and Improving the System of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and Promoting the Modernization of National Governance System and Capacity, stating that “the country’s system and capacity for governance are the embodiment of the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics and its enforcement capability”. The explanation on the national governance system and capacity comes from the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee. Please refer to the article “Effectively Unifying the Thoughts to the Spirit of the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee” published by Xi Jinping in the People’s Daily in 2014.

 

⑤ The Institutional Plan of the State Council in 2008 proposed “centering on transforming government functions and rationalizing departmental responsibilities, and exploring the implementation of the system of greater ministries with organically unified functions”; in 2013, the Notice of the General Office of the State Council on the Division of Tasks in the Implementation of the “Institutional Reform and Functional Transformation Plan of the State Council” (No. 22 [2013] of the General Office of the State Council) mentioned in Section 5 that “all departments should attach more importance to functional transformation, with due efforts made to cancel what must be cancelled, to decentralize what must be centralized, and to integrate what must be integrated.”

 

 

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Authors

Su Dong, PhD Candidate, School of Architecture, Tsinghua University, Beijing, P. R. China.


Liu Jian (corresponding author), Tenured Associate Professor, Deputy Dean, School of Architecture, Tsinghua University, Beijing, P. R. China.




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