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Political Accountability, State Capacity, and Authoritarian Resilience in Vietnam and China

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posted on 09.11.2022, 21:32 authored by Giang Nguyen

This research explains why Vietnam and China have different configurations of state capacity and how these differences affect their resilience and prospect of political change. The main argument is that there is a strong, dynamic relationship between political accountability and state capacity which shapes distinctive paths of regime development in the two countries. As a high-accountability regime, Vietnam has an expansive governance capacity which emphasises universally redistributive social policies, a tax-based extractive capacity, and a fragmented control capacity. By contrast, China’s low-accountability regime builds on a unique model of a quasi-tax, quasi-domain, and quasi-rent extraction, a cohesive governance capacity which prioritises efficiency, and a high level of control capacity. Having helped both regimes thrive through the past four decades, the two models nevertheless expose them to different sets of problems. While Vietnam is more susceptible to exogenous changes, China is more vulnerable to endogenous ruptures and decay.

The thesis adopts a mixed research approach which combines historical institutionalism in examining large processes of macro-level variables and the rational-choice analysis in studying the immediate-strategic context with key actors’ interactions, choices, and payoff perceptions. A nested game framework is used to explain how political accountability has developed and diverged in the two seemingly similar regimes in Chapter 2. It argues that events in the critical juncture of the late 1980s, particularly the Tiananmen Incident, drastically changed the Chinese leadership’s payoff perceptions of the political equilibrium and accordingly kept the regime firmly in the low-accountability track. Without a similar rupture, a system of collective leadership has been developed and preserved in Vietnam, which steered the regime towards a high-accountability path. The impacts of the divergence in political accountability on the developments of extractive, governance, and control capacities are then explored. Chapter 3 explains why Vietnam has been moving towards a tax state, whilst China remains a unique model of a quasi-tax, quasi-rent, and quasi-domain state. Chapter 4 traces the two regimes’ policy preferences to account for the difference between Vietnam’s egalitarian approach of governance and China’s “efficiency first” strategy. The contrasting fortunes of Ho Chi Minh City and Shanghai, the two countries’ economic centres, are presented for illustration. Chapter 5 discusses the diverging control capacities, arguing that China’s personalised regime requires a higher level of legitimation and repression. Chapter 6 speculates about how differences in state capacity affect the resilience of the two regimes and their prospects of political change.

The thesis makes use of a wide range of both primary and secondary data. An original biographical database of 626 members of the Vietnamese Communist Party’s Central Committee members from 1986 to 2016 and the Vietnam’s Provincial Security Dataset from 2011 to 2018 have been constructed. Qualitative evidence is drawn from the two regimes’ internal documents, particularly various volumes from the Selections of Important Documents of the Communist Party of China and the Compilations of the Vietnamese Communist Party Documents.

The thesis provides much needed insight into the relationship between political accountability and state capacity in one-party regimes, offers a novel explanation of the different resilience strategies of Vietnamese and Chinese communist rulers, and contributes to the scholarship on critical junctures and political change.  


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Political Science

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

230203 Political systems

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

3 Applied research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Marquez, Xavier; Huang, Xiaoming