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Strategic concepts and interest groups in China’s environmental foreign relations (1984-2015)

Wang-Kaeding, Heidi (2016) Strategic concepts and interest groups in China’s environmental foreign relations (1984-2015). PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.yi6vo2xcfb5p


This thesis introduces an overlooked perspective on Chinese foreign policy, that of interest groups. I use environmental foreign relations as a vantage point to examine how domestic interest groups exert influence on China’s environmental foreign relations. The proposed theoretical framework, constructivist utilitarianism, provides a bridge between the constructivist school and rationalistic institutionalism in the IR debate to explain the discursive turn of the Chinese government in global environmental governance. The discursive turn refers to the changing attitudes towards environmental governance based on learning, shared experiences, and offering an alternative norm to replace liberal environmentalism. The interest groups under scrutiny are line ministries, state-owned enterprises, environmental non-governmental organisations, local governors, and intellectuals. They each represent a distinct interest, and demonstrate different pathways for influencing foreign relations. The focus on domestic players supplements the traditional focus on international systemic factors to explain the behaviour of China on the global stage and in bilateral relations. The empirical chapters are organised according to three dimensions: international environmental treaty implementation, sharing the Chinese experience, and offering an alternative environmental norm. Each chapter focuses on one factor, in the following order: environmental diplomacy, the Chinese experience, and ecological civilisation. These three dimensions reflect the trend of the discursive turn, which is closely linked to China’s desire to establish a good national image. My findings show that interest groups in China utilise the strategic concepts of environmental diplomacy and the Chinese experience to maximise their interests. The emergence of the discourse of ecological civilisation creates space for different groups to jump onto the bandwagon by interpreting the concept in favour of their interests. In this process, identity politics becomes a mechanism by which to aggregate and rank domestic preferences in such a way that economic interests outweigh environmental ones at the state level. This thesis calls for more future research to examine other foreign relations issues through the lens of interest groups, to better comprehend the complex dynamics of China’s role in the world.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Heidi Ningkang Wang-Kaeding
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Hughes, Christopher R.

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