Intentional Ambiguity in Chinese Policymaking

The Case of the Smart Grid Industry

  • Hannes Gohli (Autor/in)
  • Doris Fischer (Autor/in)


‘Intentional ambiguity’ is a concept that most commonly appears either in the realm of diplomacy (Benson and Niou 2001) or in military jargon to describe a situation where two factions circumvent confrontation by using imprecisions to discuss a sensitive topic upon which each side possesses contrasting ideas (Johnson 2017). While much criticism is directed at China using the strategy in its dealings with foreign nations, little attention has been paid to analysing how that country’s government uses purposefully ill-defined policies to stimulate economic and technological development at home (Ahrens 2013). This article seeks to remedy this analytical deficiency by outlining in detail the theory of ‘strategic ambiguity’, and extending deliberations thereon to the case of the Chinese ‘smart grid’. The study will reveal how vague understanding of smart grids in the literature and in industry, coupled with intentionally hazy policy prescriptions from central government institutions, while stimulating technological innovation and local policy experimentation are also misleading investors in the electricity market and creating favourable conditions for large state-owned enterprises at the expense of their privately-owned small and medium-sized counterparts.∗



Veröffentlicht (Versionen)

smart grid, policymaking, intentional ambiguity, China, political steering