Chinese Environmental Policy: Domestic Legitimacy and Narratives, Thomas Benson
From Brittany Shimanski
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It is commonly claimed that China’s domestic legitimacy derives primarily from the maintenance and pursuit of economic growth and, arguably, Chinese nationalism. Given the current international and domestic salience regarding climate change, it is crucial to examine how environmental issues pose a threat to China’s domestic legitimacy because of its capacity to shape policy outcomes and undermine the legitimacy of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Official documents from Xi Jinping’s administration (2013-present), largely from the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment, are analysed to illustrate how government actors, including president Xi Jinping, frame environmental policies and issues. This study anticipates that China’s domestic political legitimacy does indeed derive largely from economic growth and less so nationalism when framing environmental issues to bolster domestic legitimacy. This paper finds that the CPC, under the Xi administration, is likely transitioning from a single narrative of economic management to an increasingly diversified range of narratives in its annual climate reports. There are also important implications for international relations, given the intertwinement of Chinese domestic and foreign policies, such as the internationalisation of domestic concepts, the pursuit of international prestige and even, perhaps, the development of a Sino-centric order.