Politicised Enforcement in China: Evidence from the Enforcement of Land Laws and Regulations

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Politically motivated interference by politicians, or “politicised enforcement”, is a common cause of enforcement failure in many countries. Existing research on politicised enforcement has focused largely on incentives driven by electoral competition, while fewer studies analysed its mechanisms in an authoritarian context. Drawing on the case of China, this article develops the argument that politicised enforcement can be a consequence of the strategies adopted by authoritarian ruling elites to maintain political survival. Using a panel data set on the enforcement of land laws and regulations, the empirical analysis suggests that the intensity of enforcement correlates with economic performance and patron–client ties between central leaders and local officials, suggesting that political imperatives faced by ruling elites to promote economic growth and carry out clientelistic exchanges affect government decisions on enforcement. Moreover, these correlations remain robust after the implementation of reforms that promoted administrative centralisation within the enforcement agency, suggesting that politicised enforcement reflects the strategic behaviour of the ruling elites of the Party. These findings contribute to the literature on enforcement in authoritarian regimes broadly and in China specifically.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66 -89
Number of pages24
JournalJournal Of Public Policy
Issue number1
Early online date8 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • China
  • land governance
  • land use violation
  • law and regulatory enforcement
  • politicised enforcement


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