Governing Shanghai: The International Regimes Dimension
By Peter Kien-hong Yu

Governing Shanghai: The International Regimes Dimension

Mar. 10, 2017  |     |  0 comments

International and global governance is a rising mainstream school of thought, which may replace realism/neo-realism and others as the primary paradigm in the study of international society or the international community in the foreseeable future.


One of the best governance tools in our anarchic world is the international regime, examples of which include the foreign aid regime, human rights regime, environmental protection regime, regime of islands, banana regime, and whaling regime.


However, we should not be misled by the adjective “international” into thinking that the kind of regimes that exist in international society do not appear locally or regionally. The environmental protection regime, for example, could be in the hearts and minds of the residents of Shanghai, or in areas such as their bathrooms at home.


The end result of formulating, maintaining, and sustaining a certain regime is the common good. So, international regimes differ from the usage of the word “regime” at the domestic or national level, the result of which is usually negative, due to the lack of, for example, the legitimacy of a leader.


In this essay, I will discuss two specific regimes, and we have to collectively take the following three terms into consideration, so as to have a whole picture or understanding of each regime at work: regime, mechanism, and measure.


The first regime has to do with the following warm tip, which I received a few weeks ago: Smoking is banned in Shanghai’s indoor public places, indoor workplaces, and public transportation from March 1, 2017. The issue at stake is your health as a non-smoker or even a second-hand smoker and the (chained) smoker’s health.


It is long overdue for Shanghai’s public and private sectors to have mechanisms and measures to shore up the non-smoking regime. It is well known that smoking is not good for health. Our lungs and other organs may be affected, such as aggravating the heart by 25%. In a worst-case scenario, birth defects may result.


The second regime has to do with the regime of renting a mobile bicycle (gong xiang dan che), or mobike for short, involving, to begin with, online transactions, under collaborative consumption (xie zuo xiao fei), a sharing economy (fen xiang jing ji), or Uberization mechanism.


To be sure, the Shanghai experience since spring 2016 has been rapidly copied elsewhere, like populated Beijing and Guangzhou. The issue in question is how to provide a tool to the community of people, including government officials, who want to use a bike from point A to point B quickly and cheaply at RMB 1 for thirty minutes, benefiting all the parties, including the company which owns the bicycle. Studies have shown that, up to now, each bike has been used by the community of 12 million users four times on average per day. At the end of the day, it seems that the mobike can make a profit after a few years.   


Regarding the non-smoking regime, we can mention things related to its mechanism. Speaking of devices, we need to have, for example, working monitoring cameras at public places, such as the coaches of the Shanghai Metro. The passengers should be alert, reminding anyone who is about to light a cigarette not to smoke in the coach. The (repeated) violators should be asked to report to a designated center, correcting their offence.     


As to the mobike rental regime, we can also mention things related to its mechanism. Talking about devices, mobile telephones are indispensable. Each user would deposit RMB 300 in his or her account. Instead of paying the rental charge in person by having to go to the company or its branch offices, the money can be deducted via the phone mechanism. An observer perceives that, if the mobike can be used 10 times each day, the regime will be able to be maintained and sustained by leaps and bounds.     


As a reminder, each regime is definitely fragile, if our unit of analysis is each individual, who may behave differently. The non-smoking regime can easily fail, so is the second regime under discussion. I can pinpoint some reasons.


The first regime can easily fail or derail. A number of reasons can be given. First, some long-term smokers simply cannot stop their urge to absorb the substance into their bloodstream. Second, who has the final say regarding what is a public and what is a non-public area? It is always possible to have a private area within a public area, and vice versa. Third, even if a university does not permit smoking on campus, can the school authorities ban carbon dioxide emitted from cars, trucks, and excavators, which do enter the university?      


As for the second regime, we sometimes see bicycles with flat tires scattered here and there on the streets or sidewalks. Who would report them to the mobike company? Is it the duty of a policeman or security guard? What kind of incentive does the mobike company offer to a mobike-rider to make a report? How fast would the mobike owner come to fix it? It has been reported that some bikers would on purpose mess up the two-dimension code or the quick response code on the bicycle. Some others, knowing that the mobike is not his or her property, would just park it in their home.     


In conclusion, I would like to make the following suggestions. First of all, the term “regime” was coined by the French. It is very easy for people in the West to have a firm grasp of this term. However, arguably, 99.9 percent of people in China, Japan, and Korea do not understand it. I began to study the term “international regimes” in March 1999. Since then, I have collected more than 50 Chinese transliterations and translations of this term. What this means is that the Chinese cannot reach a consensus on a standard translation. A Shanghai professor used the Chinese characters “zhi du1 which is usually translated as “institution.” However, this is misleading, because institution is only part of the whole picture. A regime will not be necessary if, for example, there are no people at a certain area, whereas an institution usually refers to something that is established, such as an organization. Hence, we should not waste any more time to agree on a proper, standard translation in Chinese. Second, after having done that, educating our schoolchildren is a must. It may take time, because of the nature of international regimes, which is very abstract. Third, the local experience of formulating, maintaining, and sustaining a specific regime should be shared regionally, internationally, and globally, if not elsewhere. Last but not least, government authorities should maintain and sustain a sanctions regime, punishing those who have violated each specific regime, for the sake of all.    




1. JieFang Daily, February 27, 2017, p. 11.


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