China Opens Cracks in Its Deep Culture of Government Secrecy

Published in the Times Argus:

The Chinese businessman battled for years to get cities to reveal their budgets, but his quest seemed quixotic in a country notorious for keeping citizens in the dark.

Then China did what would once have been unthinkable — it enacted an open-government policy, and last fall Wu Junliang pressed his case with the Guangzhou city government. This time, to his surprise, he won — big time. The largest city in southern China put budget plans for all 114 municipal departments and agencies online. Astonished citizens flooded the Web site to download documents, causing it to crash by the second day… “We were all very excited. It’s the first time in 60 years in this country that a city government has released their budget. And more significantly, they put it online so everyone can access it,” said Wu, 51.

Although he says he never set out to be a crusader, his victory was by far the biggest since the regulation took effect nationwide on May 1, 2008, allowing citizens to request information and get a response from the government within 15-30 days… “This is a starting point but it’s also a turning point,” said law professor Wang Xixin from Peking University. “Traditionally, China’s legal and political culture emphasizes keeping secrets inside government. The idea of open government or transparency is quite new. One of the most significant impacts of … (the new regulation) is that it helps to change that kind of bureaucratic ideology.”

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