Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 The basic objective of regulation consists of two components: economic and social (Melody, 1997). While economic elements shape telecommunications reforms towards liberalization and pro-competition, social elements stress the universal access of telecommunications and information services. The economic objective of China’s telecommunications sector is largely targeted at network communication development, as well as the maintenance of the industry as the second largest tax resource, after the tobacco industry (Johnson, 1999). As for the social objectives, China’s telecommunications policy emphasizes the importance of serving national interests in terms of network security and sovereignty. A typical consequence of modernizing a country is the restructuring of state administrations, because the state constructs institutions as a signal of the state’s goal of modernization and as a device for mediating contradictions inherent within the state (Fuller, 1991).

Comment Icon0 In the case of China’s telecommunications reform, government ministries and institutions, together with affluent and educated capitalists, claim that they represent the people’s interests. Former president Jiang Zemin’s “Three Representations” theory has been the guidance for policy-making, and along with the slogans of modernization, the CCP has outlined four roles of mass media in the reform years:

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  2. Play a positive function for society by publicizing the policies of the Party and the government;
  3. Offer a set of socio-moral standards based on Marxism-Leninism and Maoism, and encourage and educate the people of the entire nation to strive to create a socialist civilization that is both materially and culturally rich;
  4. Help the Party and the government in the smooth running of the country and maintaining established social order and stability; and
  5. Follow the Party’s and the government’s guidelines, and to prevent anti-Party and anti-government coverage (Hong, 1998).

Comment Icon0 In the early reform years, there were usually joint efforts in decision-making, with each ministry made up of a large number of bureaus that operated and regulated media agencies or companies. Over time, the decision-making process often turned out to be a furious struggle and competition among these players for their share of political power and economic benefits (Zhang, 2002). Before 1998, the media policy-making body under the State Council consisted of:

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  • Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT);
  • Ministry of Electronic Industry (MEI);
  • Ministry of Radio, Film and Television (MRFT);
  • Ministry of Culture, National Education Commission (NEC);
  • National Academy of Science (NAS);
  • Ministry of Propaganda; and
  • Ministry of Pubic Security (MPS).

Comment Icon0 To add to the complexity, each of these state agencies had its own area of concerns. The MPT was a key player as it owned, operated, supervised and regulated the national telecommunications infrastructure and services. MRFT was in charge of the operation of radio, film, television and their content. MEI took responsibility for managing the manufacturing of electronic products (Tan, 1999). The Ministry of Culture was responsible for the distribution of cultural products, the Ministry of Propaganda ensured that all media were operated under the supervision of the Party, and the Ministry of Education regulated all Chinese universities and schools.

Comment Icon0 Since the Internet saw tremendous growth in China, this policy-making body became insufficient in dealing with increasing problems associated with the Internet. For this, the State Council established a new office, known as the State Council Information Commission (SCIC). By 1998, as a testament to change, the SCIC was itself turned into the Ministry of Information Industry (MII), a new regulatory body combining MPT, part of MEI, and Network Division formerly under the Ministry of Radio, Film and Television (MRFT). In general, the authority of national telecommunications regulation and policy-making in China falls on the Ministry of Information Industry (MII). The telecommunications policy addresses network planning, service development, price regulation, scarce resource allocation, and so on. On the service side, the telecommunications policy covers diverse sectors such as wireline, wireless, paging, satellite, the Internet, and information/value-added services (Zhang, 2002).

Comment Icon0 While formal institutions such as the MII are instrumental in rolling out telecommunications media policies, informal institutions are equally crucial in shaping policies that are appropriate for government, businesses and public citizens. For these informal institutions, interested parties and public opinion mainly exert their influence in the form of “bureaucratic bargaining” to demonstrate their attitudes, requirements and arguments about telecommunications policy (Lovelock, 1996). Such bureaucratic bargaining reflects the existence of fragmented authority and can effectively contribute to an understanding of China’s policy formulation, decision-making and policy implementation (Lieberthal, 1992). While interested parties are capable of coordinated bargaining to influence policy-making, public opinion online is generally seen as being too sporadic and fragmented to have any focused impact. However, there have been instances where consistent pressure applied within a specific time span has influenced policy-making. The two notable ways public opinion typically has had an impact, through either public media or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as consumer rights protection associations. For instance, nationwide criticisms in 1998 on the poor quality of service and exorbitant pricing of telecommunications services had such a strong influence on MII that the government agency decided to terminate the dreaded monopoly by breaking up China Telecom in 1999 (Zhou, 1999).

Comment Icon0 To understand the mechanism of telecommunication policy-making in China, researcher Bing Zhang (2002) illustrated the interactions between the relevant formal and informal institutions, as seen in Figure 6.


Figure 6: China’s telecommunications policy-making framework (Zhang, 2002)

Comment Icon0 Zhang stated that the impact of informal institutions on media policies ultimately depends on its bargaining interaction with the formal institutions. As mentioned previously, informal institutions, such as the online public sphere, are becoming more prevalent as citizens become empowered to express their opinions through the social web (e.g., forums and blogs). Furthermore, with the deepening process of political reform, it is expected that informal institutions will play more important role in the future of China’s telecommunications policy-making (Zhang, 2002).

Chapter 4.4.0 – Telecommunications Policy-Making Mechanism

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