The development of smart cities is governed by a complex mix of institutions and policies. At the highest policy level, the development of smart cities has been coded in the 13th five-year plan, which calls for the development of ‘a number of exemplary smart cities, focusing on developing smart infrastructure, convenient public services, and refined social governance’. This call confirms the pilot approach where national-level ministries are involved in the development of technologies and standards, while local governments generally retain decision-making on the specific implementation aspects of smart-city programmes. The choice of pilots does not follow a particular pattern, with some projects resulting from a rigid top-down approach while others appear to be primarily driven by local initiative. This pattern of public services innovation diffusion in China has been documented in earlier studies.

To accelerate the development of the core AI technologies, the government developed a ‘national team’ approach – where different tech giants are tasked with developing open innovation platforms in their respective fields, as Jeff Ding also describes in his essay in this collection on local AI policy and hybridised industrial ecosystems. This approach is different from the classic ‘national champions’ approach since the members of the national teams are not shielded from competition, can partner with foreign firms and appear to be less dependent on government financial support.


Eugeniu Han

PhD candidate in Policy Analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School and assistant policy researcher at the RAND Corporation