The recent announcement that the Minister of Information Industry Wang Xudong would become the new director of the State Council's Leading Information Group (LIG) working office portends a significant shift in the Chinese government's approach to information technology policy. The appointment shows that the State Council is increasingly taking control of macropolicy issues from ministries, such as 3G licenses and technology standards, and using the LIG and its working office to form a general consensus on policy directions.
The origins of the present day LIG began in 1993 when the State Council decided to create an advisory body for discussing important technological issues. The resulting formation of the State Economic and Information Commission was the government's first effort to create a multi-departmental policy discussion and promulgation organisation. After a period of time and several name and organisational changes to the original commission, the State Council decided in 1999 to form the LIG and upgrade its status from that of a ministerial organisation to that of vicepremier level. At the same time, the State Council also authorised the formation of the LIG's working office, which essentially serves as the research and promulgation arm of the LIG and which plays a pivotal role in deciding the future direction of IT policy.
Wang's quick rise to the highest post at and the LIG working office signals a further resolve by government leaders to remove from the ministry level those technological issues that have larger national economic implications and to ensure that high-level government officials play a greater role in overall planning. Last year, when government officials secretly researched three potential options for the adaptation of the 3G standard in China, the effort was spearheaded not by MII but by LIG, with the bulk of the research conducted by its working office.
The new dynamics of information technology policy environment heralds a dramatic change from the previous five years in which the MII and its former minister, Wu Jichuan, were seasoned telecommunications industry experts who were criticised for taking an independent line and 'interfering' with government efforts to foster inter-ministerial co-operation. The new government's direction, in essence, attempts to 'politicise' the MII by making it a bureaucratic ministry more responsible for carrying out the larger policy directions made by the central government, rather than able to make independent decisions itself. This claim is backed up by the recent new appointments of Wang as the MII's minister and four other vice-ministers whose backgrounds are primarily as party bureaucrats and who lack significant technological experience.
During the People's Congress this March, rumours swirled that the MII itself would be abolished in the government restructuring through the formation of a new telecommunications supervisory council. While the MII was temporarily spared, however, it appears that the Chinese government is making firm moves to establish a more broad-based approach in the promulgation of the nation's IT policy.
China Concept is an international consulting firm that helps global businesses analyse China's market. www.chinaconcept.com.