Riding the Tiger: Challenges of China's Municipal Finance in the 21st Century


Tuesday, April 10, 2012, 11:40am to 1:00pm


79 John F. Kennedy Street, Littauer 140

Christine WongChristine Wong, University of Oxford

About the Seminar
From 1980 to 2011, the number of people living in Chinese cities increased by 500 million. This is urbanization on a scale and pace unprecedented in human history. Financing infrastructure and public services to accommodate the growing population and economic base presented a gargantuan challenge that, in China’s decentralized fiscal system, was left to municipal governments, with little assistance from higher levels.

The cities responded with great energy and ingenuity. Under a policy regime of benign neglect from the central government, they expanded their resources by tapping a variety of extra-budgetary revenues including land, they limited eligibility to urban services by excluding migrants, and they created corporate entities to borrow. The strategy helped China achieve spectacular growth over the past three decades, but left in its wake a patchwork of risky and unsustainable financing mechanisms, a mountain of debt and a two-tiered urban populace. Fixing the system of municipal finance is critical to China’s transition from middle-income to high-income status, and to her long term prospects for creating humane and livable cities.

About the Speaker
Christine Wong is Professor of Chinese Public Finance and Director of Chinese Studies, School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, University of Oxford. She has taught on the faculties at the University of Washington, the University of California, Santa Cruz; University of California, Berkeley; and Mount Holyoke College. She has also held senior staff positions at the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Christine’s research focuses on China's public finance and public sector reform. Over the past fifteen years she has worked extensively in advisory capacities, for the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, as well as through consultancies for the OECD, UNDP, UNICEF, and DFID.

Recent publications include "Are Beijing’s Equalization Policies Reaching the Poor? An Analysis of Direct Subsidies under the "'Three Rurals'" (with Lin Wanlong), China Journal, Issue 67, January 2012; "The Fiscal Stimulus Program and Problems of Macroeconomic Management in China", OECD Journal on Budgeting, Nov 2011; "Fiscal Reform: Paying for the Harmonious Society", China Economic Quarterly, June 2010; and "Rebuilding Government for the 21st Century: Can China Incrementally Reform the Public Sector?"China Quarterly, December 2009.

Christine received her S.B. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.