By He Jun
For some time, the controversy over “agricultural management” in China has attracted attention within the country. In China’s context, “agricultural management” refers to the “comprehensive administrative law enforcement teams for agriculture”. Public records show that the “agricultural law enforcement body” were established as early as 2003. In the institutional reform of 2018, multiple law enforcement departments that were previously under the jurisdiction of local agricultural and rural bureaus, land management bureaus, and agricultural machinery bureaus were merged and integrated into the current “comprehensive administrative law enforcement teams for agriculture” under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
Regarding the responsibilities of agricultural management, the Guiding Catalog for Integrated Administrative Law Enforcement Items in Agriculture issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs states that local areas can formulate corresponding catalogs based on local conditions and implement list-based management for law enforcement matters, requiring that “without authorization, no actions should be taken”. The main responsibility of agricultural management is to investigate and handle various types of agricultural violations, rather than “managing farmers”. Taking Hubei Province as an example, the main responsibilities of agricultural management include: strengthening the crackdown on violations in the seed market, handling illegal incidents related to homesteads, enforcing the ban on fishing in the Yangtze River, and enforcing laws related to counterfeit agricultural materials.
However, although the initial intention of the policy is of necessity, the reality of agricultural management worries farmers. Issues summarized by ANBOUND include: (1) Agricultural management has excessive power and is not restricted in rural areas. (2) Some agricultural management practices focus more on control and penalties. (3) Agricultural management does not protect farmers but rather causes damage. (4) Ignoring actual circumstances and enforcing laws uniformly. Some farmers have reported that in cases such as returning forested land to cultivation, rights to homesteads, and rural environmental improvement, there have been instances of arbitrary law enforcement.
According to public information, the responsibilities of comprehensive agricultural law enforcement include supervising and inspecting aspects such as agricultural production, rural environment, and rural economy; investigating illegal activities in agricultural production; protecting the legitimate rights and interests of farmers, and so on. It can be seen that the original intention of establishing “agricultural management” is not to “control farmers” but to regulate the agricultural and rural markets and protect the legitimate rights and interests of the farmers. However, in reality, comprehensive agricultural law enforcement has received a lot of criticism and has raised many concerns among farmers. Some Chinese netizens even compare “agricultural management” with the negatively perceived “urban management”.
Chan Kung, the founder of ANBOUND Think Tank, emphasized in internal discussions that while comprehensive agricultural law enforcement may serve a purpose in China, it is concerning if this approach becomes a widespread trend. For instance, if both urban and agricultural sectors have their own “comprehensive law enforcement,” should the industrial sector also establish its own “industrial police”? Similarly, should the tourism industry introduce “tourism police,” and environmental protection implement “environmental police”? Looking at the practical implementation, the agricultural law enforcement teams essentially function as “agricultural police.” This raises the question of whether other sectors should also establish their respective specialized law enforcement bodies.
From the perspective of governance, it is important to carefully examine the establishment and impact of such police forces. It raises the question of whether the requirement for every industry to have its own police with law enforcement authority to maintain stability implies that the governance of China has become effectively paralyzed and reliant solely on force to maintain order. Therefore, considering the overall trend, the approach of “comprehensive agricultural law enforcement” is not considered favorable. Hence, Chinese government departments will need to approach this issue with seriousness and caution.
In addition to the legal system, the arrangement of government departments and the governance system in China has provided sufficient institutional and policy arrangements for market governance. In other words, with the combination of a market economy system, legal system, governance, and policy system, the majority of sectors and affairs in China’s economic and social development should be covered. In this context, the market and society should be able to achieve orderly operation and management, making it questionable on establishment of various “comprehensive law enforcement teams” separately. From a governance perspective, these various teams have effectively become a friction layer between the government, market, and society. The presence of these various teams can be attributed to either a legal system that remains incomplete or issues with the governance system. Therefore, from a public policy standpoint, it is necessary for the country’s policymakers to engage in reflection and assessment of this matter.
Final Analysis Conclusion:
China is currently on the path toward modernization. In this historical context, it is important for it to demonstrate the necessary confidence and openness in social governance and policy culture.
He Jun is a researcher at ANBOUND