Ecological Policy with a Chinese Twist
Andrée ClémentPolitical scientist specialized in ecological issues
Natural devastation illustrates the crisis of transitions in China. In China, the double-digit, multi-decade miracle of growth has turned into an environmental and health dystopia. An ecological devastation looms over and underpins the crisis of transitions 1 , not only on the level of health and society, but also symbolically. It looms in the form of heavy clouds of smog 2 which settle oppressively over cities. It is a dense fog that obscures the future and suffocates the population. The ecological question looms large in China because natural disasters and environmental troubles are interpreted in a particular political way, based on age-old traditions. These natural events or troubles — floods, droughts, pandemics, earthquakes — are interpreted by a portion of the Chinese population and its leaders as heralding a possible withdrawal of the “Mandate of Heaven.” These disasters can be construed as a harbinger that the ruling dynasty has either disrupted harmony or is unable to maintain it, in which case leaders may find their right to rule imminently revoked. This ecological devastation ultimately underpins the crisis of transitions as the impact of environmental damage is almost limitless and affects all human activities.
An ecological rumbling is spreading among the Chinese population. “The Great Collapse” 3 is fueling panic among leaders who fear losing the Mandate of Heaven. Nevertheless, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has identified geostrategic and political opportunities in the rising tide of greening of opinions and values. Nothing can guarantee that Chinese totalitarianism has fully exhausted its potential for metamorphosis — becoming green is just one more. “Ecological totalitarianism” refers to a form of messianic policies which aim to green and completely transform mankind and society through total social control.
The red century 4 has given way to the green century. Against the backdrop of accelerating climate disturbances and the collapse of biodiversity, it is the recognition of this ecological question which gives the 21st century its green color. It is impossible, however, to understand this green century without taking Beijing into account, which is certainly fond of green, but does not intend to give up the “bright red” 5 in which the Chinese Communist Party drapes itself 6 .
The 21st century’s red color is not unique to China, however. Governing in the Anthropocene requires building consent for the draconian measures required to limit global warming to levels that preserve the planet’s habitability. Managing situations of voluntary scarcity (in the case of climate change mitigation) or involuntary scarcity (in the case of adapting to its consequences) raises major redistribution issues. The ecological question revives the social question and reintroduces forms of taxation in kind.
To this palette of green and red can be added yellow, which is associated with the lasting legacy of imperial China and with one of the most important places of Maoism’s memory — “the Yellow Land”, where the Long March ended. As a testament to his revolutionary fervor, Chinese President Xi Jinping claims to be a son of “the Yellow Land” 7 where he was sent as a young man during the Cultural Revolution. With his vision of “ecological civilization”, which he had written into the constitution of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping blends “socialist and Chinese characteristics” with red, green, and yellow.
Defining Chinese political ecology
This “ransacking of nature” is one of the most striking symptoms of the unsustainability of an ultra-centralized, extractive, and productivist political and economic model. Firstly, it is ultra-centralized — which is to say that it operates with a highest to lowest, top down, center out decision-making model, where planning and decision-making powers are concentrated in the hands of a small numbers of people— in this case the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party. Secondly, this model is “extractive” because it is based on the unrestricted and unrestrained use of natural resources. Thirdly, it is a “productivist” system which is founded in the unbridled pursuit of economic growth and the systematic drive for industrialization, standardization, volume, and economies of scale. However, structural slowdown in economic growth renders the social contract under which the CCP guaranteed the country’s prosperity in exchange for its hegemony and lack of political pluralism obsolete. It seems difficult to urge the Chinese people to simultaneously get rich — the famous “Get rich!” of Deng Xiaoping 8 (which remains relevant today) — and to live frugally. This is reflected in President Xi Jinping’s call for “a green and low-carbon lifestyle of moderation and frugality” and “opposition to extravagance and unjustifiable consumption” 9 .
Within this Chinese historical and political context, the Chinese “leap into green” can be described through two concepts. The first is “political judo” which, just like the discipline, implies flexibility — in this case, power’s ability to adapt and adjust. This concept describes a regime’s ability to get out of uncomfortable situations by turning them to its advantage. While the initial calls to make China’s development model greener came from the population 10 , isn’t the Chinese central government practicing “political judo” by shifting the pressure to solve the ecological crisis onto the people and the provinces? This new energy, economic, and cultural paradigm could benefit Beijing. It is a unique opportunity to establish a new narrative, to strengthen its global leadership, and to affirm its soft power (lending credence to its theory of a “peaceful rise to power” and even saving humanity). An alternative narrative of scapegoating minorities or foreign powers and promoting a warrior mentality is also possible.
President Xi Jinping has promised to “make China’s skies blue again” and has spoken about a “war against pollution” in publicized settings, including the 19th Party Congress in October 2017 11 . Cutting pollution is one of the three high priority “tough battles” for China in the years to come (the other two are eliminating poverty and reducing financial liabilities 12 ). Premier Li Keqiang has also declared war on air pollution, declaring in September of 2013 that China would use “iron fists” to fight pollution 13 . The Communist regime is combining ecological issues with political stability through its concept of “ecological security”.
President Xi Jinping has called for “willingly and conscientiously accepting the people’s oversight” 14 , especially in the area of environmental protection. In the case of China, the ecological crisis, rather than weakening a regime that is cornered or forced to act, could allow its leaders to reestablish the Party’s legitimacy, to perfect its authoritarianism, and to tighten its grip. An ecology which is not superficial will inevitably touch aspects of everyday and private life. The Party could then justify an almost unlimited expansion of political control in the private sphere: food, clothing, travel, leisure, etc. However, “There is a limit to the legitimate interference of the collective” wrote the philosopher John Stuart Mill 15 . This already tenuous limit to the legitimate interference of the collective has been further weakened by the fights against the Covid-19 pandemic and against smog, which have more in common than the wearing of masks and are subject to similar restrictions.
Turning an authoritarian regime green only makes it more dangerous. If, as François Godement explains, “the idea of China’s inevitable democratization is the greatest illusion at the end of the twentieth century” 16 , another illusion must be dispelled at the beginning of the twenty-first century: the greening of China’s economy and society will not spontaneously lead to the country becoming democratized and the advent of the “fifth modernization” 17 . The ecological issue is having a retroactive effect on institutions and is upsetting the very conditions of politics 18 .
The manner in which the CCP is dealing with the ecological crisis has implications for the nature of the regime itself. However, it seems inappropriate to speak of altering or reforming the regime, as the greening of the economy and society reinforces its “democratic centralism” and makes it more intrusive. There are certain intrinsic elements to the ecological issue that promote or embrace the CCP’s authoritarian views and practices. The ecological question indeed relies on physical elements within a category of imbalance. It has an eminently tangible nature (geological or chemical issues) and are measured and expressed in flows and stocks (quantifiable in tCO2eq per person, per trip, per manufactured product). It can be captured by figures at the risk of becoming blind. Nearly everything has carbon consequences and must be measured, recorded, and analyzed. Flows are thus related to stocks and vice versa. They are also intrinsically linked to energy and affect the health of individuals (disrupting living conditions or even survival) and touch all aspects of human life, including the most private. Science still has a limited understanding of the ecological question — it is a source of uncertainty and anxiety and collides with the cognitive limits of ordinary people. It is largely unpredictable (with feedbacks, threshold effects, or acceleration risks) and carries a potential for anxiety and panic. These intrinsic elements are identifiable in ecological authoritarianism 19 .
Given China’s role in globalization, this metamorphosis is not limited to the CCP but also affects global energy, climate, and politics. By “going green,” China could prevent ecocide, surpass the United States in economic power and influence, and also fundamentally transform globalization and ecological practices.
The “ecological panic”, a genuine or opportunistic concern?
The second concept we propose exploring is that of “ecological panic”. This concept is inspired by the work of the American historian specializing in the history of Central and Eastern Europe and the Holocaust, Timothy Snyder 20 . Panic serves as a kind of “oil” or “lubricant” in political judo. It allows us to avoid viewing the shift or the ecological conversion of CCP leaders solely in terms of political opportunism. Introducing the notion of political panic allows us to dismiss the Manichean idea of manipulating the masses — who have been rendered as malleable as clay — by the Chinese communist leaders 21 . This view avoids the pitfall of exaggerating the leaders’ intentions. On the contrary, it assumes that they can be “overcome” or “stricken” with panic, just like the rest of the population. Mobilizing the irrefutable alibi of the ecological crisis, if it translates into greater Party control, can be quite sincere.
Xi Jinping seems genuinely concerned about ecology and the environmental crisis that is affecting China. Reports indicate that the first thing the supreme leader does in the morning is to inquire about pollution levels 22 . A certain amount of distance is required to appreciate such information. Certainly, Xi Jinping wants the population to know that his first concern upon waking up is to check pollution levels. It is difficult to gauge a political leader’s honest beliefs, but there is evidence that the communist supreme leader’s concern for the environment is genuine. Xi believes that “human activities must respect, adapt to, and protect nature, or else human beings will suffer its retaliation; this is an unbreakable law” 23 . The communist leader’s ecological vision is underpinned by a political history of ecological issues. His speeches are imbued with and punctuated by references to historical episodes of political collapse or economic decline caused by man’s destruction of nature. Xi Jinping considers that “With history as a mirror, we can understand the rise and fall of a state” 24 , citing the environmental degradation, particularly desertification, that led to the decline of ancient Egypt and Babylon. He also cites Chinese examples – the once glorious and lush kingdom of Loulan engulfed by desertification, or the Hexi Corridors and Loess Plateau whose fall was triggered by deforestation caused by agriculture resulting in economic decline. He points out that the shift in economic poles to the east and south since the middle of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) was largely the result of environmental changes in western China. For Xi Jinping, ecological issues have considerable transformative power, “changes in the environment have a direct impact on the rise and fall of civilizations” 25 .
The ecological crisis provides an even greater opportunity for the Party to strengthen its grip because its leading officials have a genuine sense of urgency to act swiftly and decisively. The more firmly they believe and convince themselves of this, the more politically corrosive the ecological issue will become for the freedoms and peace between China and its neighbors.
The great leap into green?
It is the combination of these two concepts of “political judo” and “ecological panic” that supports the hypothesis of an unstoppable mechanism similar to the Great Leap 26 . Forward, which could lead, if not to famine, at least to involuntary mass murder and the collapse of institutions. This chain of events could be fatal not only for the environment — for the life cycle assessment of China’s green advances is often mixed, with China displacing ecological problems more than it solves them 27 — but also for civil liberties. Panic suspends judgment, which can have devastating effects in regimes combining concentration of power, and cult of personality, and terror. Panic is above all movement. Each failure or denial of the experiment feeds the vicious dynamic even more and leads to greater control. The CCP’s performative approach to truth — the hammering and learning of slogans and speeches shape it — as well as its relationship to statistics and planning, could trap local officials in charge of implementing carbon budget cuts into the same falsification of reality that peasants experienced during the Great Leap Forward. Xi Jinping’s call to move “decisively towards clean winter heating in northern China” 28 to stop episodes of “airpocalypse” in Beijing resulted in a freezing winter for rural residents in northern China 29 whose coal-fired boilers were destroyed by local Party officials eager to implement orders from above and were less concerned about the availability of affordable alternative heating solutions for low-income households.
Any criticism is dead in the water if the Party benefits the next generations who have a commitment to history 30 (the fulfillment of the new Chinese Dream and the Two Centuries goal) 31 . For President Xi Jinping, “advancing towards a new era of ecological civilization and building a beautiful China are important parts of realizing the Chinese Dream of the great renewal of the Chinese nation” 32 . The ecological issue is therefore at the heart of the narrative of national rebirth told by the Supreme Leader. Chinese Communist officials could therefore withdraw their statements and decisions over controlling the present by arguing that they are only accountable to the future and achieving the Chinese Dream as envisioned by the Supreme Leader. Their ecological spiritualism would act as a shield. Ecological civilization may further immunize the CCP against both experience and argument. The slightest denial of direct experience will be treated as a failure of implementation, which will justify the strengthening of supervision and control bodies, pushing the ambition of total control over living conditions even further. Strengthening the technological system and tracking individuals will consequently be presented as necessary. This total empowerment of the future ecological civilization replaces the communist aim.
The convergence of a number of factors lends credence to the potential of an authoritarian, or even totalitarian, ecology. At the root of a successful ecological civilization, we find extreme levels of pollution and destruction of biodiversity which create the conditions of ecocide and provoke ecological discontent among the population, particularly among the middle class who are desperate for clear skies. The regime finds “good reasons” to blame local officials (an opportunity to bring the provinces to heel and channel popular discontent), or to denounce the West for the perverse influence of its productivist model (blaming Western spiritual and political pollution). Added to this is the Chinese political tradition which views the occurrence of natural disasters as a possible loss of the Mandate from Heaven. This deeply rooted traditional thinking leads to the communist core leadership’s survivalist adherence to the ecological emergency. The ecological issue also holds significant economic opportunities, especially for breaking into new technological sectors. Beijing is working to encourage Chinese companies to move into the “low-carbon” sectors of tomorrow’s economy, such as electromobility. The anticipated benefits of climate leadership in terms of soft power are also important as Beijing hopes to counter its reputation and fill the void left by the United States under Donald Trump’s presidency.
The concept of ecological civilization also reflects a feeling of racial or civilizational superiority, (Chinese millenarianism and the desire of the Hans to civilize ecologically, i.e., to make ethnic minorities more Chinese under the guise of ecology). Hiav-Yen Dam and Sébastien Scotto di Vettimo refer back to the origins of the term ecological civilization (shengtai wenming) used in 2007 by President Hu Jintao. They explain that the term wenming can be translated as “civilization”, “civilized”, or “modern”. According to them, the term “carries a prescriptive ideology aimed at changing the behavior, moral attitude, and lifestyle of Chinese citizens” 33 . This concept fits perfectly with Xi’s vengeful nationalism (his plan for “national rebirth” and undoing the humiliations inflicted by unbalanced treaties). The demand for climate justice could justify a “Malthusianism for the sake of others”, using the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Ecology is also fertile ground for the deployment of intrusive technologies (applications on smartphones, sensors, social ratings, or facial recognition cameras) allowing for a ubiquitous control of the “communist green way of life” 34 . Finally, the arbitrary system of lifetime liability for public officials for environmental crimes could create a green terror. Everything, or nearly everything, points to the possibility of green totalitarianism. Add to this mix the cult of personality surrounding President Xi Jinping, which is built on his green credentials (his early green record and stance in his career as a local official), a propaganda and iconography of the shovel where the President participates in reforestation activities, or the development of foundational concepts (“the history of the city of Anji” 35 and the “Two Mountains theory”).
President Xi Jinping is drawing “red lines for environmental protection”. He wants to build a strong environmental protection corps and to encourage citizen river monitoring or reforestation brigades. He urges “developing ecological families, schools, and communities” 36 . In the event of environmental violations, he calls for no leniency and no exceptions. In a distinctively repressive vein, he calls on Party officials to “never let our institutions and regulations become toothless tigers” 37 . Despite communist democratic centralism, Chinese environmental policy is not an ecology without the people; on the contrary, “no one can stand aside and choose to criticize from a distance rather than participate” 38 . Alice Ekman explains that “the Party therefore expects individuals to be positively and meaningfully engaged in the service of the community, the Party, and the nation, beyond their individual preferences, aspirations, and freedoms” 39 . Xi is explicit on the subject: “the building of ecological civilization is closely linked to each individual, who must be both a supporter and a promoter” 40 , and the morality of society’s collective participation must be established. Enthusiasm is encouraged through competitions, events, and even national campaigns. One example is the “Beautiful China” campaign, which Xi Jinping sometimes describes using the term movement (yundong in Chinese), a word which was used during the Maoist period in connection with the Long March or the Hundred Flowers movement.
The public is thus directly involved in the “surveillance of all by all” in a form of ecology that can be reduced to flows and stocks, embodied in Xi Jinping’s quotes learned by heart, and scored. The CCP is in search of “a consistency uniting economic, social, and ecological performance” 41 . Yet producing this consistency unifying these outputs would appear to be the sole responsibility of the Communist Party. Confirming the CCP’s stated premise of “political judo”, Xi Jinping argues that in order to solve the environmental crisis “we must fully exercise the political strength of the Party leadership and Chinese socialist system which can provide the necessary resources to take on immense tasks” 42 . The CCP General Secretary proclaims that in the “relentless and tireless fight for the environment, it is essential to strengthen the CCP’s leadership.”
What constitutes “good” ecology
While China’s material enrichment has been considerable, it is important to not lump the ecological issue into a debate on efficiency. A former expatriate in Beijing involved in sustainable development in China says, “China can move forward at the press of a button. It puts all the means in place to succeed. Its authoritarianism allows it to mobilize society on a massive scale” 43 . The picture is not that clear. And even so, politics is not about efficiency alone and must be viewed in the long term. Rather, it seems that the ecological issue implies a transformation that is far-reaching, lasting, and freely agreed upon. Unilateral and comprehensive management of decarbonization is not capable of resolving the ecological crisis. The great reformist impulses, with their Manichean and exonerating dimensions, often cause imbalances. Ignoring collective intelligence and the virtues of democratic decentralization risks major pitfalls. Top-down and authoritarian environmental policies induce guilt in the poorest and disempower officials in charge of implementing them. These policies open the door to fraud and corruption and are more likely to be unfair and poorly accepted.
While technological breakthroughs are crucial to the greening of economies, the transition to sustainable development is a more in-depth process. Introducing “green” or “clean” technologies and enacting stricter regulations is not enough. The shortcomings of a strictly scientific ecology are well known 44 . An ecology which liberates mankind must be designed as political self-limitation. The principal virtue or benefit of ecology is to question the ends of progress and to redefine the notion of limits. Cornelius Castoriadis proposes a definition of ecology that is far removed from any romanticism or mystification of nature. He writes: “ecology is not the ‘love of nature’: it is the necessity of human beings’ self-limitation (that is to say, of true freedom) in relation to the planet on which, by chance, they exist, and which they are destroying”. The liberal hypothesis of society’s ecological redesign is that self-determination can lead the way to self-limitation. In this sense, ecology does not necessarily consist of extending controls and constraints but can also mean the diffusion of the idea of restraint throughout society and its appropriation by the social body. Self-restraint means foregoing and prioritizing certain opportunities and consciously abstaining. It is not necessarily a dismantling of certain ways of life. If taming social violence is at the heart of the “civilization process,” the next step in this process is to contain the violence that humans exert against nature. In order to avoid conflicts over the division of resources, violence among humans was previously redirected towards the environment in a process of accumulating those resources. Productivism is a way to mitigate conflicts of scarcity. But ecology takes on the role of reminding people “ that everyone cannot do whatever they want; we must limit ourselves” 45 . Castoriadis proposes an explanation of ecology and his philosophical thinking on autonomy: “Autonomy — true freedom — is the necessary self-limitation not only in the rules of intrasocial conduct, but in the rules that we adopt in our conduct towards the environment” 46 . It would thus be a question of self-limitation in the rules that we adopt, by which we mean non-heteronomous rules, i.e. not handed down or told by religion, tradition, a single party, or a supreme leader. “Organizing certain forms of non-intervention is obviously governing, but it is governing in a different way than directing” 47 explains Gil Delannoi. Ecological transition requires the support and participation of citizens, both in the deliberation and design of measures, as well as in their application, enforcement, and oversight of their implementation. However, including a billion people in such deliberations could prove to be complicated. The Communist regime relegates the Chinese public to the latter stages — oversight and implementation — and excludes them from the initial stages. This is not a new issue. Faced with these challenges concerning the appropriate scale of decision-making and the practicality of participatory democracy, the traditional route that favors territorial democracy seems to be reinforced by the intrinsic environmental benefits of “localism” and reduced imports. As a result, greater self-sufficiency automatically narrows the possibilities of consumption and consequently reduces the associated emissions of greenhouse gases.
Planetary limits do not exist independently (which does not negate the existence of biodiversity tipping points or feedback loops); their definition requires the intervention of human beings, i.e. the judgment and deliberation of a certain number of people, depending on the political system. These limits or manners of organizing an ecologically responsible society are not detectable or identifiable through scientific observation. They are defined in terms of tolerance thresholds for environmental degradation that are commonly agreed upon, sometimes tacitly through collective inaction, and that science sheds light on, but in no case can it set.
Caring about the global commons, especially climate, requires studying China, which polarizes global ecological problems and hopes because of its demographic and carbon weight. Additionally, in Xi Jinping’s words, the country intends to take “the wheel of climate action in international cooperation”. The implications of this statement, made in 2017, may not have been fully appreciated at the time. At the very least, we should know the possible destinations of an “ecological journey” whose path is determined by the CCP, and which the West would be reduced to simply being the passenger. For Xi Jinping, the creation of an ecological civilization must proceed smoothly in order for Chinese-style socialism to win a decisive battle in the ideological competition with the West. If Chinese-style ecology proves or is perceived to be effective in combating climate change, the authoritarian mold in which it is forged may gain additional prestige and legitimacy. Confronted with the magnitude of future environmental disturbances and the unrelenting feeling of powerlessness resulting from the inertia of climatic phenomena, public opinion may be enticed, not to abandon or shun the liberal political model, but to increasingly borrow from Chinese authoritarianism.
- The communist regime is facing several transitions, including the rebalancing of its economic growth model (called the “new normal”) towards domestic consumption and less towards exports (a soft landing), its move upmarket (in order to avoid the middle-income trap), against a backdrop of aging demographics, rising geopolitical tensions in its vicinity, an open trade war with the United States, and challenges to and even rejections of its “New Silk Roads” initiative.
- This is the thick brownish haze, resulting from a mixture of air pollutants. Smog is a photochemical formation of ozone. It is a degradation of air quality, mainly through the formation of low-level fog called “smog”. Extreme smog phenomena have been observed in China since the early 2010s.
- Expression of “Grand Collapsus” succeeding the “Grand soir” used by Pascal Bruckner, in a context not specifically related to China. P. Bruckner, “L’écologie entre panique et sang-froid”, Le Débat, vol. 210, n° 3, 2020.
- The expression “red century” is sometimes used to refer to the twentieth century. This is notably the title of a book by Jean-Christophe Buisson published in 2019 and subtitled “The Communist Worlds 1919-1989”. J-C., Buisson, The Red Century, Paris, Perrin, 2019. As for the expression “green century” is more recent, but is gaining popularity, especially after the publication by the philosopher Régis Debray of an essay entitled Le Siècle vert: Un changement de civilisation, Paris, Gallimard, “Tracts. Grand format,” 2019.
- A. Ekman, Rouge vif : l’idéal communiste chinois, Éditions de l’Observatoire, 2020.
- The East is Red is a political song that was virtually the anthem of the People’s Republic of China during the Cultural Revolution.
- The Yellow Earth is both a place where Mao’s Long March ended in 1935, and a term that, for the Chinese, designates a region symbolizing hard work and noble sacrifice. F. Lemaître, F. Bougon, “Xi Jinping, son of the ‘yellow earth’ ”, Le Monde, 30 July 2019.
- Slogan used in 1992 during the great economic reforms launched by Deng Xiaoping.
- X. Jinping, “Pushing China’s Development of an Ecological Civilization to a New Stage”, Qiushi, vol. 11, n° 39, 2019. Xi Jinping’s original citation in English: “Green ways of living relate to the basic needs of ordinary people, like food, clothing, shelter, and transportation. We must advocate a green and low-carbon lifestyle of moderation and frugality and oppose extravagance and unjustifiable consumption. We must carry out extensive campaigns to build conservation-minded public offices, engage in activities to promote green modes of transportation, and develop eco-friendly families, schools, and communities”.
- In particular through numerous demonstrations in opposition to the installation of polluting projects. This social discontent sometimes erupts in violence. This was the case, for example, during the demonstrations against the installation of a paraxylene factory in Kunming in May 2013. On the subject of the uprising of local populations against polluting projects, see for example M.-H., Schwoob, “L’éveil vert de la société chinoise?”, Écologie & politique, vol. 47, no. 2, 2013. Discontent is also expressed on the Internet. An oft-cited example is the success and political reaction to a documentary on smog titled “China’s Haze: Under the Dome,” it was an investigation published in February 2015 and made by journalist Chai Jing. It was viewed 155 million times in 24 hours (300 million views in total) and initially praised by the Chinese Ministry of Environment, before being censored. In another example, a poem entitled I long to be King reminding us that smog is a major cause of cancer, written by a Chinese thoracic surgeon, went viral in January 2017
- People’s Republic of China, Progress Report of Xi Jinping to the 19th CPC National Congress (18 October 2017), Winning the Decisive Victory of Fully Building the Middle-Income Society and Triumphing Chinese-style Socialism in the New Era, 2017.
- Reuters Staff, “China to “declare war” on Pollution, Premier says”, Reuters, 2014.
- X. Jinping, China’s Governance, vol. 2, op. cit. p. 32. Speech entitled “Carrying on and Properly Implementing the Soul of Mao Zedong’s Thought (26 December2013).
- J. S. Mills, De la liberté, Gallimard, Folio, 1990.
- P. Saint-Paul, interview with F. Godement, “Xi’s China has taken an authoritarian turn”, Le Figaro, 2019.
- This expression refers to the name given to a poster stuck on a wall, signed by the hand of Wei Jingsheng, on 5 December 1978. It was a call for individual freedom and the establishment of true democracy. Today, the expression means the democratic modernization of institutions, including real political pluralism and freedom of opinion and expression.
- The ecological question upsets the nature of power, political institutions and especially the relationship between the governors and the governed. Democracy, in the sense of a regime or a political society and not only of an institutional system, is for example disturbed. The common rules and norms that societies adopt in order to orient and structure human behavior and interactions are changing, particularly through establishing limits. Organizations – parliaments, administrations, regulators, private companies, associations, etc. – Organizations – parliaments, administrations, regulators, private companies, associations, etc. – must now operate or deal with the ecological constraint, in particular with the attitude towards the life of their citizens or constituents resulting from the Anthropocene. They proceed in different ways, in symbolic registers or more directly in public policies, by means, for example, of direct controls or incentives to reshape human behaviors in order to reduce their carbon footprint.
- Its distinctive features are, for example: an enlightened vanguard that is the only one capable of solving the problem (an ecological Politburo or a committee of experts); instrumentalization of science to establish its power and its decisions (refuge and irresponsibility behind the implacability of figures); rejection of responsibility for failures and disasters on past generations, on the other, or on political opponents; mono-causal explanation of all events: total political irresponsibility in the face of accidents and disasters; fixation of the hierarchy of values and behaviors, identification of deviants or revisionists; measures to reduce GHG emissions imposed unilaterally and without deliberation (while ignoring social and redistributive issues, in particular the sharing of scarce resources in the event of suffered or administered shortages); permanent state of emergency: suspension of rules framing state action; confusion between civil and military aspects (militarization of minds and of the fight against climate change), especially in the organization of relief efforts (omnipresence of the military celebrated for its assistance to victims); surveillance of individual ecological efforts and disappearance of the notion of privacy and confidentiality.
- T. Snyder, Terre noire : l’Holocauste, et pourquoi il peut se répéter, Gallimard, Bibliothèque des histoires, 2016.
- L. Willy Wo-Lap, The Fight for China’s Future : Civil Society vs Chinese Communist Party, Routledge, 2019.
- AFP, “China’s Xi Says he Checks Pollution First Thing Every Day” Daily Mail, 2014.
- X. Jinping, China’s Governance, vol. 2, op. cit, p. 490. Speech titled “Promoting the Establishment of Ecological Living and Development” (26 May 2017) from Key Points of Speech at the 41st Study Session of the Political Bureau of the 18th Party Central Committee.
- “With history as a mirror, one can understand the rise and fall of a state. The reason why I have repeatedly emphasized the importance of taking environmental issues seriously and handling them properly is that China’s environmental capacity is limited, our ecosystems are vulnerable, and we have still not achieved a fundamental reversal of environmental conditions that cause heavy pollution, significant damage, and high risk.” X. Jinping, Pushing China’s Development of an Ecological Civilization to a New Stage , Qiushi, vol. 11, n° 39, April-June 2019.
- “The natural environment is the basis of human survival and development, and changes to it directly impact the rise and fall of civilizations”.
- The Great Leap Forward was Mao Zedong’s first attempt to move away from the Soviet model. This economic, social and political program implemented from 1958 to 1960 turned out to be a terrible fiasco for the whole population, which suffered from 1958 to 1962 the “Great Chinese Famine”.
- Carbon and pollutant leakage are caused by the internationalization of Chinese companies and the New Silk Roads initiative. Part of China’s strategy to reduce excess industrial capacity is the “internationalization” of its brown industries (in effect, their offshoring). For example, since China restricted commercial logging, it has turned to Russia and Indonesia and imported huge quantities of wood to meet the demand of its construction and furniture companies, accelerating deforestation there.
- X. Jinping, La gouvernance de la Chine, tome 1, Éd. en Langues étrangères, 2014.
- On the relations between rural residents and Party officials around the ecological issue, see for example the following survey on rural activism. M. H, Hansen, & Z. Liu, “Air Pollution and Grassroots Echoes of ‘Ecological Civilization’ in Rural China”, The China Quarterly, vol. 234, 2018.
- By invoking future generations, or deadlines such as 2035, Xi Jinping could further shield his actions from criticism. The CCP is at the service of the people, this claim is presented as irrefutable. Governing in the name of future generations makes it possible to accept all possible controls, sacrifices or violence. To accept accountability only to future generations is to abolish politics.
- The “two centenaries” goal is at the heart of the CCP’s agenda and ideological discourse. It is to “complete the comprehensive construction of the middle-income society” by the centenary of the founding of the CCP in 2021 and to make China the world’s leading country by 2049, the centenary of the People’s Republic of China.
- X. Jinping, China’s governance, vol. 1, Foreign Languages ed. 2014. Speech titled “Let’s Leave Blue Skies, Green Earth, and Clear Water for Future Generations” (18 July 2013).
- H-Y. Dam, S. Scotto di Vettimo, “Chapitre 8. Entre réconciliation avec la nature et ‘civilisation écologique’. Comment penser l’Anthropocène en Chine ?”, in R. Beau et C. Larrère (dir.), Penser l’Anthropocène, Presses de Sciences Po, Collection académique, 2018.
- [ndlr] On this subject, see the article of S. Monjon and E. René titled “The New Tools of Environmental Governance in China: Top Down Control and Environmental Credit”, page 127 and that of F. Cugurullo titled “ ‘One AI to Rule Them All’: the Unification of Chinese Urban Governance under Artificial Intelligence”, page 123.
- This previously highly industrial and polluted city is now presented by the Chinese official media as a kind of earthly paradise. Xi Jinping is said to have formulated his “Two Mountain Theory” for the first time and to have uttered the now famous phrase “clear waters and green mountains are the real treasures”.
- X. Jinping, La gouvernance de la Chine, tome 1, op.cit.
- A. Ekman, Rouge vif : l’idéal communiste chinois, op.cit.
- X. Jinping, China’s Governance, vol. 2, op. cit, p. 493. Speech titled “Promoting the Establishment of Ecological Living and Development” (26 May 2017) from Key Points of Speech at the 41st Study Session of the Political Bureau of the 18th Party Central Committee.
- X. Jinping, China’s Governance, vol. 1, op. cit. p. 252. Speech entitled “Toward a New Era of Socialist Ecological Civilization” (24 May 2013).
- X. Jinping, “Pushing China’s Development of an Ecological Civilization to a New Stage”, Qiushi, vol. 11, n° 39, April-June 2019.
- G. D’Allens, “La Chine, une inquiétude pour le climat mondial”, Reporterre, 2019.
- One example is the disproportionate and self-serving expectations placed on carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies. More generally, faith in technical progress and energy efficiency gains are often neutralized because they are reallocated to other activities, or allow for increased consumption (“rebound effect”).
- C. Castoriadis, “ La force révolutionnaire de l’écologie ”, Journal published by Bureau des élèves de l’Institut d’études politiques de Paris, 1992, reprinted in La société à la dérive, Paris, Seuil, 2005.
- G. Delannoi, “La liberté est-elle négative ?”, Commentaire, vol. 3, n° 115, 2006.
To cite the article
Andrée Clément, Ecological Policy with a Chinese Twist, Sep 2021, 121-127.
To read in this issueSee the whole issue
Economic Growth and Climate Change — Beijing’s Hard Choices
China’s emergence as a global economic power in recent years was accompanied by a growing role on the global climate stage. But this was not necessarily obvious since the fight against climate change has not always been one of Beijing’s priorities and may even appear to contradict its national objectives. First, in terms of growth, … ContinuedRead the article
Can the EU Lead the Fight Against Climate Change?
Adam Tooze — In light of the important compromises reached last December on Europe’s new goal to reduce carbon gas emissions by 55% by 2030, I would first like to ask Enrico and Laurence how they view the development of Europe’s climate policy since the inauguration of the Green Deal. Enrico Letta — Last spring … ContinuedRead the article
The EU and China: Climate and Trade Increasingly Intertwined
The EU and China – different ambitions and actions on climate The interlinkages between trade and climate change have risen to the top of the international negotiations on climate cooperation. This effect is partly caused by the Green Deal of the European Commission, by the revival of international climate and trade talks after the US … ContinuedRead the article