Implementation of Chinese Environmental Law: Regular Enforcement and Political Campaigns


  • The research for this article was funded by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The author would like to thank Jamie Nicholson, Peter Ho, Eduard Vermeer and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on earlier versions of this paper. The author takes full responsibility for the opinions expressed and all possible errors.


While China has made great strides in establishing environmental laws and enforcing environmental regulation, problems of non-compliance and weak and slow enforcement remain. This contribution analyses cases of sub-optimum enforcement and the political campaigns that have been undertaken to deal with them. It will argue that enforcement problems are rooted in a lack of local legitimacy caused by conflicting interests of stakeholders. The case of Chinese environmental law enforcement holds lessons beyond its regional scope, about the role of law in balancing interests. Law itself does not exist in a vacuum: on the contrary, it is very much the result of conflicting interests and can be seriously challenged by the need to balance these interests. The use of political campaigns to enhance enforcement in China shows that the flexibility of political short-term policy instruments can offer incremental improvements to enhance the balance between the conflicting interests themselves and their relation with the legal system.