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Hydropolitics and Inter-Jurisdictional Relationships in China: The Pursuit of Localized Preferences in a Centralized System*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 August 2014

Scott Moore*
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Email:


Inter-jurisdictional water resource issues constitute a growing political and economic challenge in China. This article examines three such cases of hydropolitics, namely large dam construction, water resource allocation, and downstream water pollution, through the lens of central–local relations. It argues that the hydropolitics in China are characterized by the pursuit of localized preferences within the constraints imposed by a centralized political system. In each case, the primary actors are sub-national administrative units, who adopt various competitive strategies to pursue their own localized interests at the expense of neighbouring jurisdictions. This article argues that although vertical control mechanisms in the Chinese system effectively limit central–local preference divergence, they do little to contain horizontal conflicts between sub-national administrative units. The paucity of formal inter-jurisdictional dispute resolution mechanisms is a major barrier to meeting water resource challenges, and inter-jurisdictional collective action problems are likely to pose growing difficulties for the Chinese political system.


跨辖区水资源问题对中国的政治和经济是一个严峻的挑战。本文从中央与地方关系的角度, 分析中国大坝建设、水资源分配以及下游水质污染所牵涉的水资源政治。作者认为, 中国水资源政治的特点在于, 尽管各个管辖区受制于中央集中制, 仍然偏好各自的利益。在所有案例中, 中央以下各行政单位皆采取各种竞争策略来争取自己管辖区的利益, 而不惜牺牲相邻管辖区的利益。虽然中国垂直式管制机制有效地限制了中央与地方的分歧, 但并没有解决中央以下各行政单位之间的横向冲突。缺乏一个正规机制来解决辖区之间的争端, 对中国水资源问题的解决极为不利。同时, 各个管辖区行动不一致, 很有可能对中国的政治制度造成更多的困难。

Copyright © The China Quarterly 2014 

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The author gratefully acknowledges the research support provided by the John L. Thornton China Center, Brookings Institution, with funds from the Ford Foundation, and the Sustainability Science Program, Harvard Kennedy School, with funds from the Italian Ministry of the Environment, Land and Sea.


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