Contemporary Chinese Environmental Governance and Regime Legitimacy
Yu, Sean Francis
This paper aims to explain the causal variable which motivates the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) environmental policies up to 2016. In the wake of environmental degradation with an ongoing transition from an export-based to consumer-based economy, why would the CCP pursue stronger environmental policies despite knowing that this short-term loss of GDP growth would cause domestic instability? Many theories have been proposed, but these theories have been unsatisfactory or partially correct. They overlook the critical causal variable of the CCP’s preference: to maintain regime control by addressing issues that threaten its legitimacy. The middle class represents a stronger faction within Chinese domestic politics than China’s migrant workers, where the middle class is more capable of destabilizing China and has become more outspoken in voicing discontent. It is because of the middle class’ ability to destabilize China, rising interest in China’s environmental condition, and its political significance as urban hukou residents, that the CCP is compelled to calculate its decisions based off of middle class interests. The paper will analyze four alternative explanations – energy reform, health issues, international image, and improving GDP growth – and three case studies to support this argument.
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