Following the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, China once again shows the image of its new power through the Shanghai World Expo recently. Thirty years of reform(1978-2008) have turned China into one of the largest and most dynamic economies in the world, however, China need to pay a heavy price for catching up the developed world.
Considering for instance that, China ranked 129th among 142 countries for which environmental sustainability was evaluated. China’s rapid industrial development over the past three decades leads to heavy pollution and environmental degration. Chinese government and the general publics have a growing concerns over the environment deterioration. The central government has responded by developing new policies, laws and regulations which aimed to protect the environment, while China’s current environmental policy, regulations and bureaucratic politics concerning environmental protection reflects the government should improve its governance structure rather than simply increasing funding and technologies investment(Gnag 143). Recognizing the need for an alternative to a totalitarian state governance, the state have turned to non-state actors to share the environmental protection burden. Environmental Non-governmental Organization have become a significant role in green policy making, while they are not as strong and influential as their international peers(Gang 41). Focusing on how ENGOs grow under the scope of central government’s state environmental protection system, this paper explores the growing history of ENGOs, ENGOs’ roles which bounded by the central governments, and the symbiotic relationship between ENGOs and the government.
Growing Power of ENGOs
China had no environmental non-governmental organizations(ENGOs) until 1994. The establishment of Friends of Nature in 1994 kicked off the rapid growth of ENGOs in China. According to Ministry of Environmental Protection of China, there are 3,539 environmental NGOs in China by the year 2008, which including government-sponsored ones, grassroots ones, branches of international organizations as well as school environment societies. More ENGOs have been known as Global Village of Beijing, Green Home, together with Friends of Nature are the three most important ENGOs in China.
Bounded role of ENGOs
Even though there is a trend that ENGOs gaining more prominent role in environmental policies making and implementation, ENGOs role is still constrained under the central government. “According to the revised(1998) regulations governing registration and management of social organizations, NGOs must formally register with the Bureau for Administration of NGOs, a section within the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Failure to register means the NGO cannot become an independent and legal social organization, and will not have a sponsoring unit”(Schwartz qtd Jiaman 37). It means NGOs need to first undergo examination by a government bureau with a connection to the NGO’s area of interest. The relevant government bureau plays a fateful decision role for the ENGOs. Specifically, registration of ENGOs can be refused if the government evaluate ENGOs activities and statements to be less of social interest. While social interest is a hard concept to defined, and environmental protection often loses to the more attractive economic development to a developing countries as China, Chinese ENGOs will be easily closed down at the beginning if they are interpreted as unnecessary or unsatisfactory(Schwartz 38).
Obviously, Chinese ENGOs are restricted by their nature of governmental structure, while there is another significant obstacle to their activities are the lack of competent human capital. As Schwartz point out that, “While many staffers may be well educated and committed to environmental protection, the vast majority have little or no environmental science or professional background”(38). On one hand, Many of the Chinese ENGOs are facing the problem of lacking professionals. China is a typical authority-oriented countries, and as there is generally little enthusiasm for NGOs among the few highly trained professionals who do exists, those professionals often view ENGOs as relatively weak organizations. As in the campaign of Nujiang project’s success are contributed by the effort of journalists. Many activist in environmental NGOs are journalist, they were able to use the media to attack the Nujiang project and to mobilize public opinion to against it(YiYi ). Lacking sufficient number of experienced and well-trained members, ENGOs are limited to their capacity to evaluate or enforce environmental policies and gaining public support in their activities.
On the other hand, another human capital challenge for the Chinese ENGOs is the future following the departure of the founders. “The most successful Chines ENGOs depend on the personal status and abilities of lead figures”(Schwartz 39). Examples as Wu Deming of Chongqing Green Volunteers (CGV) and Liang congjie of Friends of Nature, both of them are famous person with many personal contacts and able to covey their ENGOS’ ideas directly to government decision makers. Laking good name of founders, Chinese ENGOs lack a tool to influence the official agenda and gain reputation from the general publics.
Enven though the roles of Chiese ENGOs are restrained by the governmental structure of central government, and bounded with the philosophy of authority-oriented. there is a trend that Chines ENGOs actors are expected to maintain a symbiotic relationship with government. The government have also turned to the non-state actor to share the environmental protection burden.
In the case of Nujiang Project, the campaign in fact started from within the government, which some officials in the State Environmental Protection Agency were proposed to the Nujiang project, while they lack of the power to veto it. So they asked the NGOs contacts to drum up support for their position. Through out the whole campaign, there is a clear Chinese characteristic of ENGOs that worked closely with their allies in the government. Chinese ENGOs need of government support does not detract from their ability to carry out effective advocacy.
Chinese ENGOs often operate in a way that is very different from ENGOs in most other countries, while most ENGOs elsewhere often defend their independence from the government as essential, many Chinese NGOs view the informal and formal ties with the government as an invaluable asset. For many years the government has been the sole provider of social services, many ordinary people still have poorly trust over private institutions. Chinese ENGOs therefore need government endorsement to gain public trust. To keep in a symbiotic relationship under the pull and push of government may help Chinese ENGOs to be in an active role in environmental public policy arena.
Gang, Chen. “Politics of China’s Environmental Protection: Problem and Progress”. World Scientific Publishing Co.Pte.Ltd.2009. Print.
Gang, Chen. “A Long Way to Go Green: Rethinking China’s Environmental Policy, Laws and Governance.” China’s New Social Policy: Initiatives for a Harmonious Society, Eds. Zhao Litao, Lim Tin Seng. World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd.2010. Print.
Schwartz, Jonathan. "Environmental NGOs in China: Roles and Limits." Pacific Affairs 77.1 (2004): 28-49. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 10 May 2010.
Yiyi Lu. “NGOs with Chinese Characteristics”. Beijing Review. Jun 30,2005. Vol.48.Iss.26;pg.16. Access through Proquest Databases.
China’s Environmental NGOs’ influence increases. http://websearch.mep.gov.cn. Web. May 9.2010