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China Table of Contents


Decision Making and Implementation

Understanding the intricate workings of a government can be difficult, especially in a country such as China, where information related to leadership and decision making is often kept secret. Although it still was not possible to understand fully the structure of Chinese foreign- policy-related governmental and nongovernmental organizations or how they made or implemented decisions, more was known about them by the late 1980s than at any time previously.

After 1949 China's foreign relations became increasingly more complex as China established formal diplomatic relations with more nations, joined the United Nations (UN) and other international and regional political and economic organizations, developed ties between the Chinese Communist Party and foreign parties, and expanded trade and other economic relations with the rest of the world. These changes had affected foreign relations in significant ways by the late 1980s. The economic component of China's international relations increased dramatically from the late 1970s to the late 1980s; more ministries and organizations were involved in foreign relations than ever before; and the Chinese foreign policy community was more experienced and better informed about the outside world than it had been previously.

Despite the growing complexity of Chinese foreign relations, one fundamental aspect of foreign policy that has remained relatively constant since 1949 is that the decision-making power for the most important decisions has been concentrated in the hands of a few key individuals at the top of the leadership hierarchy. In the past, ultimate foreign policy authority rested with such figures as Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, while in the 1980s major decisions were understood to have depended on Deng Xiaoping. By the late 1980s, Deng had initiated steps to institutionalize decision making and make it less dependent on personal authority, but this transition was not yet complete.

In examining the workings of a nation's foreign policy, at least three dimensions can be discerned: the structure of the organizations involved, the nature of the decision-making process, and the ways in which policy is implemented. These three dimensions are interrelated, and the processes of formulating and carrying out policy are often more complex than the structure of organizations would indicate.

Data as of July 1987