Clini, C. (2017). Between a Rock of Global Security and a Hard Place of Domestic Growth: China’s Role in Climate Action As an Unsuspected Norm Maker.
Climate change has been a contentious issue in international politics, and academic and scientific communities. Its progressive move into the sphere of "high politics" has paralleled a structural shift in the global centres of power, especially towards the emerging economies of China, India, Brazil, and South Africa. Among them, Beijing is playing an increasingly pivotal economic, political, diplomatic, and military role.
In this context, as climate change has emerged as a major policy issue in national and international security affairs, an increasing number of countries have started to urge China to take on binding emission reduction commitments commensurate with its level of economic development. They have used international climate change negotiations (ICCN) to pressure Beijing and criticize its climate change policy as inadequate. While criticism has not died down entirely, critics have to contend now with China's apparently evolving behaviour.
Beijing's response to this international pressure has been twofold. On the one hand, it has anchored its negotiating position in ICCN to the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" (CBDR), thereby claiming its developing country identity and rights. On the other hand, China has progressively switched, at both domestic and international levels, from a predominantly reactive role of a recipient of criticism and policy demands to one of proactive engagement in environmental protection, climate change policies, and ICCN. Thereby, it has become an unavoidable player in global environmental governance.
This research investigates the driving forces behind China's increasing engagement in global environmental policy and, ultimately, Beijing's shift to a leading role in global environmental governance. It addresses the ostensibly puzzling change in China's behaviour from "norm taking" to "norm making". My argument is that China's unfolding engagement arises from a changing self-perception and identity shift from a recipient of international norms and expectations to a global norm entrepreneur and leader of the "global South" who also sees economic, technological, political, and diplomatic benefits in environmental and climate change reforms. Ultimately, I argue that Beijing's strategic pursuit of material gains and new reputation has been enabled and reinforced by its identity transformation.
To address the research question and substantiate the core argument, a threefold document, literature, and discourse-analysis approach has been employed. It has been used to investigate the evolution of China's environmental policy at domestic and international levels. To examine and substantiate the hypothesized norm-making evolution, this study has tied its dynamics to underlying shifts in China's collective social identities along a number of key and interconnected dimensions. Moreover, this course of analysis has been enabled by a critical use of International Relations (IR) theories. In analysing which IR theory could best explain China's evolving behaviour in global environmental governance, this research argues that limitations of realist and liberal theories call for a more sociological and identity-based contribution. Therefore, by drawing on a set of social constructivist ideas, this study shows how China has used diplomacy, clean energy research, development aid, and South-South Cooperation and its own understanding of soft power to secure broad political support within the global South for its climate change and development policy in relevant international forums. Thereby, China has progressively strengthened its normative power and, accordingly, framed the global debate on climate change as a subject of North-South politics.
By utilizing a social constructivist lens, this research makes a combined theoretical and empirical contribution to interpretive, constructivist, and sociological-organizational accounts of great power behaviour, power transition, and institutional participation - areas of study traditionally dominated by the 'neo-neo debate' in International Relations.