Authoritarian neoliberalization in China’s water governance: the case of China’s South-North Water Transfer Project

Authors: Jichuan Sheng*, Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology, Michael Webber, University of Melbourne
Topics: China, Water Resources and Hydrology, Environment
Keywords: South-North Water Transfer Project; Authoritarian neoliberalization; Legitimacy; Benevolent governance; Water governance
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Delaware A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The practices of China’s water governance not only involve highly technical interventions from the government but also reflects some features of neoliberalization. In government reasoning, market and governmental interventions coexist, making the notion “authoritarian neoliberalization” a useful starting point to understand the transformation of water governance in China. This paper assesses the practices of water governance in China’s South-North Water Transfer Project from the perspective of authoritarian neoliberalization. First, the practices of China’s water governance contain some essential elements of the neoliberalization, including devolution of water management, marketization, commodification, and privatization of water resources. Second, in the meantime, China’s water governance also has authoritarian features, enabling authoritarian neoliberalization which combines neoliberal elements and authoritarian control to become a selective and adaptable expression of neoliberalism. Third, effective water governance in China is claimed to be a manifestation of benevolent governance that cares for people’s well-being and is, therefore, a source of the political legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. Nonetheless, authoritarian neoliberalization is officially regarded as merely a useful practical instrument. Through the case study of water governance in China’s SNWTP, the interpretation of the authoritarian neoliberalization in this paper helps to expand the existing understanding of variegated neoliberalization.

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