Poorly Enforced Environmental Policies in China: Theoretical and Literature Review

Published: 2021/11/17
Number of words: 3454


China has developed and adopted different environmental policies over the last ten years. These policies are developed with the idea of controlling different operations in different sectors of the country, including in the industrial sector and the Two Control Zones (TCZ). The main challenge that face the environmental policies in China arise from the fact that the country has huge backload of challenges that are brought about by the economic activities that it engages in. It is becoming increasingly challenging for the country to address environmental policy challenges because of its inability to enact enough water treatment centres. Majority of Chinese living in the rural areas are finding it difficult to access clean drinking water, and the situation seems to be getting worse with time. This paper will do an analysis of the different approaches to the problem of environmental challenges, addressing the governance problem that exists in terms of the implementation of these policies. This review will focus on the different studies that have focused on the problem of policy governance in Chana in the case of Two Control Zones. The aim is to find out the different insights that these studies provide in terms of causes and or challenges of this policy governance problem in the Two Control Zones (TCZ) in China.

Overview of relevant theoretical approaches

There are different studies that have focused on the problem of policy governance. A look at these studies and their critical analysis indicates that the problem is rooted in China’s economic approach, with the country focusing on building its economy more that taking care of its environment. This makes it difficult for the policies that are formulated to address the problem. These studies have varied merits in terms of addressing the challenges of the policies, with some of them focusing on the challenges without offering any solutions. An example is the study by Zang and Wen (2010). Another study by Kumar (2014) shows that China has been prioritizing strategies to respond to its economic issues, with the objective to become a global economic super power. The challenge with this approach is that the country has given very little attention to important strategies that could address the environmental issues that result from the pollution of the environmental. China is currently the largest global pollutant of Carbon Dioxide, making it a big threat to the achievement of a safe and clean environment.

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Cailing et al (2009) notes that the inability for China to effectively manage its environmental pollution problem has resulted into several problems. One of the problems is the decrease in the amount of water that is consumable by humans. This is a dangerous trend because a big percentage of the Chinese population is struggling to find clean air and water. Clean air and water are important in the sustenance of a healthy Chinese society, which means that the continued pollution is a threat to the very existence of the Chinese society. However, the studies that have discussed this issue have mostly failed to indicate how the economic empowerment of the Chinese society has come with environmental challenges that the Chinese Government has inadequately addressed. The current review is interested in the work of Wang (2016) who argue that the environmental problem in China is a global environmental problem, making countries like USA, Japan and UK want to find solutions to the rates of environmental pollution in China. This perspective is critical in view of the fight against global warming and climate change. Climate change has become a global challenge, which prompts governments across the world to enact laws and regulations that control the emission of gases into the atmosphere. The importance of this perspective cannot be overemphasized because the urgency with which climate change needs to be dealt with is the kind that requires international or global support. China is on the verge of social and environmental collapse because of the manner in which its environmental challenges are being addressed, with most of its focus being on economic stability other than the environmental problems.

The study by Pang (2020) indicates that China’s pollution rates have grown to levels that are endangering the existence of human beings as a consequence of the country’s rising population. The Chinese population has put a strain on the natural resources in the country, prompting the citizens to find other locations like other countries where they can live. The danger in this manner of addressing their social and environmental problems is that the real problem remains, despite the people moving to other places. Besides, this study shows how population growth relates to environmental challenges because the two have a direct proportionality. An increase in population of the people leads to an increase in the challenges in the environmental since controlling a small population is easier than a big population. Population is an important metric in the attempt to address environmental problems in China.

The policies that Pang identifies and which the government of China is struggling to ensure that they are adequately implemented. This study indicates why it is important for the government to take responsibility for the failure of the policies in the attempt to address the environmental problems in China (Sun, 2016).

The government is the central player in the struggle to ensure that the Chinese society, and the world at large, are free from environmental pollution. However, the desire to be a global economic powerhouse makes it difficult for China to adequately address this problem. This research is essential in this area of study because it addresses the weaknesses that the government of China portrays in its attempt to address the problem. Further, this study highlights the categories of strategies that are important but which the government is either unwilling to adopt or unable to. The main category is the adoption of the green economy, where the industries are run by eco-friendly green fuel. Industrialisation is a critical aspect of globalisation and this has helped China to rise to the second largest economy in the world. However, this has come with a heavy build-up of harmful gases which are emitted into the environment.

China has heavily focused on the urban area, developing strategies to ensure its urban areas are up the international standards. However, xxxxx notes that this poses a huge challenge to the country’s achievement of a green economy because the rural areas are bearing the brand of this neglect. In this study, it is noted that China’s poverty index is extremely high in the rural areas than in the urban areas. Tis is attributed to the challenges that the rural people are facing, including the heavy burden of environmental pollution which is a result of the industrialization in China. Industries pollute the air in China and the rural areas get the effects of this pollution without benefitting directly from the industrial activities themselves. The authors note that direct benefit would be in terms of employment, which would offer economic independence for the people. However, the current situation is where the people are suffering from the effects of activities that do not directly benefit them. The industrial products are further even sold to them without considering that their financial abilities are not as high as those of the people living in the urban areas. This challenge has been discussed din depth by Kumar (2014) who notes that the government appears to have neglected the rural people on the issue of environmental pollution despite its efforts to address the rising poverty levels in the rural areas. However, another study by Yifen et al (2010) dispute this perspective arguing that China has put in measures to address the rural pollution than it has about the urban pollution. In fact, this study notes that the rural people are in a better position to breath fresh air as compared to the urban people, especially those living in within the Two Control Zones.

The Two Control Zones in China are heavily polluted because of the heavy industrial activities for purposes of exporting. Lu et al (2020) notes that these areas are heavy pollutants of the environment because of the heavy population that they attract and the kind of activities that take place here. Again, there is need to acknowledge the efforts by the government to depopulate these areas, like it is attempting to depopulate urban areas through creation of employment opportunities in the rural areas. The TCZ are found in most of China’s rural areas as a strategy to ensure that the urban areas get decongested. Decongestion of the Chinese cities and big towns is a strategy that the government adopted in order to deal with the rising populations in the urban areas in China. This study is important because it explores the strategies that the government has employed to deal with this challenge. However, it is noted that the study fails to acknowledge that the TCZs are critical elements in the discussion of the pollution in China because it mainly discusses their socio-economic impacts with critically discussing their impacts on the environment. This study indicates how it is important to ensure that the government puts into place functional structures to deal with pollution in the TCZs without deeply discussing these particular strategies (Wartman et al., 2009).

However, among the different weaknesses that this study identifies as being responsible for the problem of pollution of the environment in the TCZ is the implementation strategy of the policies. China has a top-down approach to policy implementation, which is the top-down approach. This is not the best for the problem of pollution of the environment, especially by the Two Control Zones. The study notes that the involvement of the public in the solutions to this problem in view of this policy is critically low or sometimes is lacking. The danger is that there is little or no ownership of the policy by the people, making the government to struggle alone in the implementation process (Islam, 2017).

Another study that finds the implementation manner of the policies as being one of the challenges to the problem of pollution in the TCZs is that by Zhang and Wen (2010). In this study, the author notes that the government officials cannot oversee all the government policy implementation activities because of the several economic activities in the country, especially in the TCZs. The Chinese population poses another very big challenge for the success of these policies because the officials who do not adequately involve the public tend to be strained and overstretched by the depth and weight of the problem of environmental pollution. The government, further faces numerous challenges because of the structures it adopts in the implementation process. These structures inhibit proper participation of the people of China in addressing the problem of pollution. Notably, this study is deep in the analysis of the government structures and how it becomes its own impediment to the realization of the required results. The political dimension that the implementation process takes is one of the worst challenges in this problem according to the study. The government keeps straining its officers because of the politics that surround environmental pollution and the TCZs because of the economic aspects that are attached to them. The government cannot adequately control the population in the different environments, meaning that the involvement of the public would easily address this problem than the political angle that the government gives it.

Further, Pang (2020) notes that this challenge is made even worse by the fact that China is the world’s second largest economy with the highest population in the world. Mixing the two, a high population in a high economy, makes it very difficult for the political class to adequately address the social and environmental problems of the people of China. A critical look at the challenges highlighted by Lu et al (2020) indicates that they are most governance and require to be dealt with from a different perspective other than the political one. However, it is clear that the politics of environmental pollution in China are far from being over because the desire to be a global economic and political leader has always superseded China’s desire to be free from environmental pollution, especially in the TCZs.

Insights from Selected Literature on the Governance Problem

It is clear that the government has failed to address the problem of environmental pollution generally in China and specifically in the Two Control Zones, TCZs. The challenge about the approach that the government has about implementation process indicates how important it is for the public to take part the design of any solution. The top-down approach indicates that the public has little say in what has to be down. Instead, it is noted that the approach should be down up, with the government coming down to the people to seek the answers to the problems. This way, the local leaders with embrace the approaches that will be adopted and quickly/easily implement them. The public is important in the implementation of the policies because there is no way the people would easily adopt strategies they think are thrown unto them, as Khan and Chang (2018) note.

Regarding the decongestion strategy by the government, it is noted that China I an extremely overpopulated country. This high population poses a challenge in the control of pollution in the TCZs because high populations are extremely difficult to control. The urban populations have been increasing in the big urban areas and cities of China. This means that, despite the government’s attempt to increase employment opportunities in the rural China, there is need to ensure that the decongestion of the urban areas does not lead to another kind of pollution in the rural areas. However, this seem s to be the result of the strategy because, as the government builds industries in the rural areas as a way of controlling the urban population, the effects of pollution that the urban and industrialized areas are facing begin to be noticed in the rural areas (Wang and Lin, 2020). Further, the idea that the rural people are facing pollution effects and yet are not direct beneficiaries of the industrial activities indicates a high level of dissatisfaction with the government strategies to deal with pollution, especially by the rural people (Wu and Tal, 2017). The emission of SO2 in the recent years has led to the pollution of clean water that is for human consumption. This further makes the problem heavier on the people in the rural areas than in the urban areas. Critically analysed, it is clear that these different approaches that the government has in attempting to address the problem of pollution of the environment in the TCZ are different and have unique challenges. Thus, the solutions to the challenges would require multi-faceted approach, without any one-fits-all approach that the government of China tends to adopt. Using the top-down approach makes it appear that there is a government think tank who believes that a particular approach or approach is the best in dealing with dealing with this problem with asking the people what would work for them. Dynamism is critical in finding working solutions to the problem of environmental pollution in China.

Insights from Selected Literature on the Relative Merits of the Different Solutions

It is noted from the different literature reviewed that different government approaches have different merits in the solution of the problem of environmental pollution in the TCZs. The different approaches, like the suggestion that the government needs to take a bottom-up approach instead of the current top-down approach is merited. This emphasizes on the importance for the government to involve the public in its implementation strategies and adoption of policies on environmental pollution. Besides, there is need to acknowledge that the population in China is a problem. The continued neglect of this fact will continue to create policy problems on issues that touch on the socio-economic lives of the people of China. Both the rural and the urban areas have high populations and are affected by the problem of population. Therefore, decongesting the cities while creating industries in the rural areas is not the best solution to the problem of environmental pollution (Tanaka, 2015). The relevant authorities need to address the causes of the problem of overpopulation instead of looking at it in the manner that they are doing; shifting it from different places of the country.

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Other than the approaches that the government has, the reviewed studies indicate that there has been a disjunct between the government and its implementing bodies. The political class tends to approach this problem from a political angle without giving the professionals and experts in the area enough time and resources to develop the right strategies in the implementation of the policies. The government has the overall responsibility to oversight the implementation process but it does not have to be the implementer. The disjunct indicates lack of satisfaction on the part of the implementing authorities of the professionals with the governments’ approaches.


This theoretical/literature review has focused on the different studies about the problem of environmental pollution in China’s TCZs. It is noted that there are different strategies or approaches that the government of China has adopted in implementing the policies on environmental pollution but which have varied measures of success, with some totally failing. The governance problem in the policy implementation on environmental pollution has its roots in the implementation approaches. The government needs to give the people the power to choose what works for them and be part of the implementation of the strategies. Besides, it is clear that China is an overpopulated country, making it difficult for the government officials to control the population in their environments. However, there are efforts to ensure that there is corporation between the government and the implementing authorities, which is expected to improve that reception and perception of the people and the authorities about the government’s policies (Duan et al., 2014). Further, this review takes note of the fact that the different approaches need to be synthesised so as to address the dynamic problem of environmental pollution instead of having the idea that there is one approach that will fix this problem. The policy implementation challenges are rooted in the political class and this needs to be changed in order to allow the right and specialised individuals to help the government in designing the strategies for implementation of the policies. 


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