Global Warming and East Asia: The Domestic and International Politics of Climate Change

By Paul G. Harris | Go to book overview

4

The forces behind China’s climate change policy

Interests, sovereignty, and prestige

Zhihong Zhang


Introduction

The importance of China in setting the global climate change policy agenda is usually understood in two ways. First, China currently ranks second in the world in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. With a burgeoning economy and heavy reliance on coal use, China is expected to take over the United States as the world’s largest emitter of GHGs in the next twenty years or so. Second, as the world’s largest developing country with an influential voice at the United Nations (UN), China is anticipated to play a leading role among developing countries in steering international climate change negotiations. Accordingly, China’s climate change policy will have far-reaching global implications, and understanding the driving forces behind China’s climate change policy is of critical importance.

In this chapter, I will examine the formulation of China’s climate change policy and the driving forces behind it. My main contention is that China’s climate change policy, under the influence of foreign policy considerations, has been driven by three principal forces, namely promoting national interest, protecting state sovereignty, and enhancing international image. I will analyze China’s stance on climate change at various stages of international negotiations and policy formulation. I will also explore these questions: What is China’s national interest vis-à-vis climate change? What does sovereignty signify to Chinese policymakers? How has China advanced its international stature through climate change diplomacy?

I conclude that China’s climate change policy is grounded in protecting its national interest and state sovereignty and in enhancing its international image. These policy objectives tend to complement one another. Although some pundits have regarded China’s policy on climate change as inflexible and uncompromising, an in-depth analysis of the Chinese policy considerations and recent developments suggests that, notwithstanding its established principled stance, China’s position on the implementation of the climate change treaty is not immutable; it has been evolving over time. A better understanding of the driving forces behind China’s climate policy will likely lead to more fruitful international negotiations and cooperation.


China’s position on climate change

On May 13, 1998, at a hearing before the US House of Representatives’ Committee on International Relations entitled “The Kyoto Protocol: Problems

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