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Leading small groups in China's inter-city governmental cooperation

Tingting Miao (Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing, China)
Hao Ju (Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing, China)

International Journal of Public Leadership

ISSN: 2056-4929

Article publication date: 13 May 2020

Issue publication date: 18 May 2020




Over the past several decades, there has been an increasing trend towards inter-city cooperation, which is an efficient policy option to deal with the challenges from globalization, regionalization and the externalities resulting from urban entrepreneurialism. Specific to China, the city governments, which mainly refer to prefecture-level and county-level governments, have also made many attempts to cooperate with respect to their local economic development and public affairs. Nevertheless, the results of these initiations to cooperate vary to a great extent. Based on a review of regional pollution governance in the Xiaoqing River area, tourism cooperation initiatives at Weishan Lake and transport integration between Jinan and Laiwu. The findings demonstrate that China's idiosyncratic institutional background has a significant impact on the shaping of inter-city cooperation. For the most part, leading small groups (LSGs) and their leadership property tend to determine the effectiveness of inter-city cooperation.


To examine the effect of the LSGs, we categorize them into three types, groups with strong leadership, weak leadership and self-forming leadership. Through reviewing regional pollution governance in the Xiaoqing River area, tourism cooperation initiatives at Weishan Lake and transport integration between Jinan and Laiwu, we try to probe the role of leading groups in the settlement of cross-administrative border issues.


Based on these three cases, the conclusion can be drawn that the leadership type of the LSG can exert an important influence on the efficiency of inter-city cooperation. If there is a leader with a higher administrative rank or authority, the cooperation can be quite efficient. Otherwise, the cooperative ending might be very negative. In terms of the operation principle, we can infer that even though the cities are always self-development oriented, the leader with higher authority or a strong coordinating capacity can convince and persuade the city leaders to overcome their self-centered behavior template and boost the cooperation to March on smoothly. Also, it means that the LSG is constrained by its personalistic characteristic. Key command derives from the person who chairs the LSG other than specific rules and norms. If the lead of the LSG leaves his position, the cooperation might just become paralyzed. From this point of view, the lack of legal basis remains to be the LSGs' significant deficiency and the future reform should attach more importance to the legalization of the LSGs so the operation of LSGs can be more standard and stable.


Many scholars have proposed their own theoretical models to explain the reason some cities successfully and effectively form cooperative relations, while the other cities do not. However, their models do not consider the idiosyncratic context of China or, how and to which extent LSGs can promote cooperation. Therefore, this paper seeks to probe which path in the context of China cities usually follows in the formation of joint efforts, and what role LSGs play in enabling cities to cooperate.



Miao, T. and Ju, H. (2020), "Leading small groups in China's inter-city governmental cooperation", International Journal of Public Leadership, Vol. 16 No. 2, pp. 249-264.



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