What does China's online petition system tell us?

By Zhang Lulu
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, November 27, 2013
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China has pledged to carry out an online petition system in its Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms issued on Nov. 15, after the decisive Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, which took place from Nov. 9 to 12.

The online petition site on the website of the State Bureau for Letters and Calls was launched this July, saving petitioners from the risk and high cost of traveling to Beijing.

Petitioning is a time-honored way for the Chinese people to voice their complaints to superior authorities or even the central government. In recent years, however, petitioning has become a sensitive issue in China, as some local governments send "interceptors" to prevent people from taking their grievances to Beijing.

But with the launch of the online petition site on the website of the State Bureau for Letters and Calls this July, petitioners will be saved from the risk and high cost of traveling to Beijing.

In addition, the online system also puts the government under the people's examination and supervision, as the whole process can be tracked and assessed.

The decision to implement the online petition system, as a matter of fact, is just one part of the central party's determination to push forward its reform of social management.

As the Study Times, a newspaper run by the Central Party School pointed out, a highlight of the Decision is the transformation from a "governance" approach to a "management" approach in terms of addressing social concerns. In other words, while in the past the government functioned as the sole governing body in a top-down manner, in the future a cooperative management approach by the government and society are to be explored.

Professor Deng Guosheng, from the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University, singled out the separation of the government and social organizations in the Decision as a significant progress, saying that it is vital to release social vigor and help prevent and resolve social conflicts.

Social organizations in China have developed rapidly in recent years. There were only around 5000 social organizations in China in 1988 when official registrations began, while now the figure has now increased to 500,000 – an increase of 100 times. There are 47 foundations which raised over 100 million yuan (US $ 16.4 million) in funds by the end of 2012, and some raised more than 1 billion yuan (US $ 164 million).

While the authorities find it difficult to address every appeal from the increasingly diverse Chinese public, social organizations, which are often specialized, will serve the function more efficiently.

Of course, there is still a long way to go before China reaches a point where the government and the public are responsible for social management. To begin with, the registration of social organizations should be streamlined. China has to learn the lessons from the "glitches" of the Obamacare website, as the petition website crashed briefly on the first day it went into operation, but the decision to innovate in the social management system already suggests a strong will to push for more progress.

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