IILJ Working Paper 2017/3 (MegaReg Series)

China and Global Regulatory Coherence: An Uneasy Relationship?

Han-Wei Liu & Ching-Fu Lin

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The last two decades have witnessed various governance initiatives across institutions, domestic and international, in response to mushrooming regulatory trade barriers. Among the efforts to balance regulatory autonomy and international cooperation, “regulatory coherence” or “good regulatory practices” seems a promising solution that centers upon bottom-up domestic regulatory rationalization. While existing literature has documented how recent mega-regional trade blocs seek to harness regulatory barriers through mechanisms of international cooperation, it has arguably overlooked certain crucial issues. In particular, how has regulatory coherence emerged as a new global norm vis-à-vis the default international economic and legal order? What are the limits to the global normative diffusion of regulatory coherence when considering the diverse contexts and agendas of emerging economies, most notably China?

This article aims to enrich the existing scholarship by making two major claims. First, drawn upon a historical approach, this paper traces the trajectory of the development of regulatory coherence. With the United States being the primary driving force, the concept of regulatory coherence mirrors the key elements of Administrative Procedure Act and has diffused across various jurisdictions through multiple venues, such as APEC and OECD. Yet, despite its penetration, the entrenchment of regulatory coherence as a new global norm is conditioned upon complex political economy issues, particularly the role of China. By exploring the evolution of legal and political underpinnings for the past decades, this article contends that China has taken what we describe an “experimental approach” by prudently addressing regulatory coherence at both domestic and international levels, largely due to the democratic implications of regulatory reforms. Such an approach may, in the end, define the boundary of regulatory coherence as an emerging global norm.