Oct 2, 2014

Discourse Analysis of Chinese Energy Policy


“Energy Policy, Political Discourse, and Politics of Sustainable Development of the People’s Republic of China,” Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Canadian Political Science Association, May 27-29, 2014. 


This paper investigates China’s conceptualization and implementation of sustainable development with the case of its energy policy between 1978 and 2012. As China has become the top energy consumer and a key actor in the global prospect for sustainable development of the world, the linkage between the Chinese interpretation of sustainability and the potential policy orientation is worth exploring.

Drawing on conventional studies on the theory of sustainable development, the paper sets up three dimensions—economic, ecological, and social—for assessing the notion in the Chinese context. With the methods of discourse analysis and process tracing, I generalize the Chinese model of sustainable development as a complex of economic primacy, ecological viability, and social green-engineering.

This paper makes the following argument: While the above three features have contributed to China’s eager reduction of energy intensity and aggressive expansion of renewables, however, the last one as an “engineering” is essentially anti-social and could be detrimental to China’s future sustainability. The recent emissions reduction measures taken in a top-down manner for the purpose of climate mitigation seemed to be efficient for a short time, but they may not be effective nor sustainable in the long run. A historical analysis on China’s energy policy since the economic reform is conducted to support this argument. 

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