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China Table of Contents


The Decision-Making Process

The most crucial foreign policy decisions in the mid-1980s were made by the highest-level leadership, with Deng Xiaoping as the final arbiter. A shift was underway, however, to strengthen the principles of collective and institutional decision making and, at the same time, to reduce party involvement in favor of increased state responsibility. In line with this trend, the State Council made foreign policy decisions regarding routine matters and referred only major decisions either to the party Secretariat or to informal deliberations involving Deng Xiaoping for resolution. When called upon to make decisions, the Secretariat relied largely on the advice of the State Council and members of China's foreign affairs community. The importance of the Political Bureau appeared to have lessened. Although individual members of the Political Bureau exerted influence on the shaping of foreign policy, the Political Bureau's role as an institution seemed to have become one of ratifying decisions, rather than formulating them. The division between party and government functions in foreign affairs as of the mid-1980s could therefore be summarized as party supremacy in overall policy making and supervision, with the government's State Council and ministries under it responsible for the daily conduct of foreign relations.

These high-level decision-making bodies comprised the apex of an elaborate network of party and government organizations and research institutes concerned with foreign policy. To support the formulation and implementation of policy, especially in a bureaucracy as complex and hierarchical as China's, there existed a network of small advisory and coordination groups. These groups functioned to channel research, provide expert advice, and act as a liaison between organizations. Perhaps the most important of these groups was the party Secretariat's Foreign Affairs Small Group. This group comprised key party and government officials, including the president, the premier, state councillors, the ministers of foreign affairs and foreign economic relations and trade, and various foreign affairs specialists, depending on the agenda of the meeting. The group possibly met weekly, or as required by circumstances. Liaison and advisory functions were provided by other groups, including the State Council's Foreign Affairs Coordination Point, the staff of the premier's and State Council's offices, and bilateral policy groups, such as one composed of ministers and vice ministers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade, which met at least every few months.

In the late 1980s, the decision-making process for foreign policy matters followed a fairly hierarchical pattern. If a particular ministry was unable to make a decision because the purview of other ministries was involved, it would attempt to resolve the issue through informal discussion or through an interagency group. If that was not successful or if higher-level consideration was needed, the problem might be referred to the Foreign Affairs Coordination Point or to select members of the State Council for review. Certain major decisions would then be discussed by the Foreign Affairs Small Group before consideration by the party Secretariat itself. If the issue was extremely controversial or important, the final decision would be directed to the highest-level leadership, particularly Deng Xiaoping.

Data as of July 1987