Rapid growth in China is negatively affecting the environment. Air pollution in Beijing is now a major source of concern, while the Chinese government seems to be doing little to protect the environment. Thus, this paper presents an in-depth public diplomacy strategy based on building a network of influence to advocate for policy change in environmental laws and protection.
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A network of influence will draw members from diverse sources and, therefore, present issues and solutions to influence change in policies from diverse perspectives. As such, it will perhaps make the government to take action and reform its inadequate measures to protect the public.
China’s ranking on environmental degradation by global bodies such as the UNEP has placed it among the top ten countries with increasing negative impacts on the environment. This could be linked to its vastness in the industrial sector and the lack of proper policies on environment degradation.
Historically, especially during The Mao Regime, the willingness of China to take caution on environmental degradation had been questionable. However, due to mounting pressure from environmentalists and even Chinese themselves, the government is trying to salvage the seemingly out of hand situation.
Nearly all types of pollution experienced in China are relatively higher than thresholds set for normal human environment. For instance, in air pollution, Beijing has surpassed the Environmental Protective Agency’s air quality scale of 300 to register above 500 scales. In January 12 2015, the reading reached 886. This is to say, air in Beijing, in some instances, has become unsafe for breathing.
Deforestation is on high rates. The UNEP has listed Chinese forest cover as threatened and needing protection. Deforestation has gradually led to desertification, with alarming desertification annual rates of 950 square miles.
These high rates of pollution have led to “cancer villages”, places with extremely high cancer risks to the dwellers. Specifically, people living near industrial complexes have reported extremely high numbers of nearly all types of cancer such as stomach, liver, and kidney and colon cancer, among others.
Biodiversity drop resulting from deforestation, killing of wild animal in search of their products like ivory, horns, bones and skins is also major environmental issues witnessed in China. China also has an indirect connection with killing of wild animals in other parts of the world, especially Africa, since China provides market for wild animal products.
Given these environmental issues in China, specifically the current level of air pollution, this proposal presents a design of an in-depth public diplomacy strategy to deal with the issue.
Major causes of air pollution in China
The smog descending upon China in the recent past has a great link to industrial productions, gases emitted by vehicles, coal power plants, and construction activities. These statistics were given by China’s Ministry of Environment Protection citing contributions of 80%-90% of air pollution. The negative impact has been immense in Beijing and majority of Chinese cities.
The release of sulfur dioxide and other harmful gases and the consequent acid rain in China has been reported as the highest in the world since the 1990s (Gao et al. 447).
Pollution mitigation policies failure
China has made some policies to conserve the environment. Nevertheless, the implementation process has been facing insurmountable challenges. First, the drastic economic growth and rural-urban migration witnessed in China over the past two decades alongside huge population have made it hard for the process of pollution mitigating. Second, most of the environmental policy institutions get less funding and attention relative to economic policy institutions.
Therefore, the lack of effectiveness of environmental policy institution has made it difficult for implementation of environmental policies. Finally, the existence of many autonomous local networks and governments is another big obstacle in environmental policies implementation processes. Though the central government may be spearheading proper implementation of the set policies, the many autonomous local governments do not do the same (He et al. 34-35).
China’s opportunities in pollution mitigation
Political will and the government structures
Pollution can easily be fought if the mitigation process gets proper political will from the government. The current Chinese government has expressed its intentions of fighting the menace. This is a good sign and can be a milestone in war against pollution as opposed to government inaction. Furthermore, Chinese central government can make use of many autonomous local governments to reach all parts of the vast country. The already existing environmental policies and institutions can be of great use, especially if given enough funds.
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Public outcry on the adverse effects of high pollution level has been reported all over China, especially North China and in major cities. The government can tap this and make it a useful tool for curbing the vices by mobilizing its citizenries in the war against pollution. Since the Chinese have experienced the severe effects of pollution first hand, they collaborate with the government to fight it, given proper sensitization and tools.
The Chinese pollution issues could be in the end, global problem. Therefore, most of the countries and global bodies could give a lot of support in the process of pollution reduction. China should make use global assistances be it financial or technical support. For instance, China can make use of international bodies such as the UNEP in coming up with sustainable development policies.
The Chinese GDP has been on steady increase over the past two decades. Additionally, China has many trading partners who together with international financiers, would give loans and grants for environmental protection.
Possible challenges faced in pollution mitigation
The huge population and its consequent demands
China’s huge population poses a major challenge for curbing and controlling pollution. For instance, the high demand for vehicles and other products has led increased industrial activities, which emit increased volume of harmful gases.
The magnitude of the problem
The magnitude of pollution may make the steps taken in curbing the menace to appear futile. The problem itself could also be facilitating the rate at which it is accelerating. For example, winters are made colder by pollution and as a result, people use more coal to warm their homes, further increasing the problem.
Ambiguous policies and laws, development verses environment
The Chinese government is not clear on policies on consumption of products that are hazardous to the environment. Confusion comes in especially when it comes to balancing economic growth and conserving the environment. It has advocated for policies in support of development without paying attention on the impact on the environment, and policies in support of sustainable development. In cases where people and firms contravene environmental policies, the laid down deterrents are not properly used.
The challenge of source of energy
To support big industries and the huge number of vehicles, China depends majorly on coal, which is a major source of pollution. The government of China has the will to reduce consumption levels of coal, but it is faced with the challenge of giving an alternative. The possible route out of this problem, which is converting coal to gas, needs a lot of fresh water. That is, by creating a solution to coal usage, more problems that pertain to water consumption will be created.
Use of economic resources and finances
The process of cleaning up the environment is capital and labor-intensive. Therefore, adequate funds and time are needed to carry out cleaning activities. This may even include regulating the amount of coal consumption, further hurting the economy.
There have been claims that the Chinese do manipulate the pollution statistics probably with the aim of reducing the shocking details on the ground. This can arguably be true since statistics released by the government have discrepancies with those given by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. With unreliable data, it is even more difficult to come up with comprehensive strategic plans to mitigate pollution.
The proposed in-depth public diplomacy strategy
Advocacy and the network of influence
Public policies reflect the ultimate outcomes of a government system to transform the public positively. Currently, it can be difficult to demonstrate the influence of Chinese government on environmental issues, specifically the quality of air in Beijing.
Thus, interest groups should take initiatives to change the current situations because they too can hardly demonstrate their roles in air quality protection in China. As such, the environment and the public face critical technical issues that require advocacy intervention. Public diplomacy must always strive to influence policy change through more reliable tactics.
For this proposal, the term public diplomacy strives to show how interest groups can apply advocacy as a public diplomacy strategy to shape and change thoughts and opinions while encouraging the formation of strong alliances with other like-minded groups in society irrespective of culture and geographical location. The influence of advocacy should have some effects on the government, at least in a manner that results in concrete initiatives to save the environment.
Given the influence of the Chinese government on the public, it is proposed that a network of influence should be created as a public diplomacy strategy to influence the government to take action on air pollution. It is believed that networks of influence would lead to more meaningful views and positions on how the government can tackle air pollution in China.
The exact events
The public diplomacy strategy, advocacy would involve the use of informational and educational materials to seek for the preferred outcomes by engaging a network of influence that can influence Chinese government to adopt new environmental policies.
Advocacy would involve specific positions that support the needs of environmental activists. Hence, the network of influence will use specific tools or activities such as written opinions, editors’ point of view, political leaders’ support, and think tank analysts’ recommendations. In addition, other members of the network would take part in educational and professional exchange programs to learn more about China and its cultural practices, particularly on environmental conservation.
How a network of influence would work
By developing and sustaining a network of influence and revamping the relations, the level of engagement at home and abroad with stakeholders, an interest group is most likely to achieve positive outcomes. A network of influence targets various stakeholders from diverse fields and regions.
Literature has shown that collaboration between local individuals and other higher-level bodies is vital for environmental conservation. Further, the role of local stakeholders is viewed in terms of knowledge generation to enhance learning of the local context.
In addition, several studies focusing on environmental management have often stressed the relevance of working together with various stakeholders and the relevance of networks that cut across several levels of social bodies. This approach ensures that an interest group can gain access to a diverse set of information, sustained learning and enhanced relationship with the external bodies.
While building a network of influence is vital for public advocacy to protect the quality of air in China, academics point out that it is not clear whether knowledge obtained by external relations is internally relevant, distributed, accepted and adopted by interest groups.
Further, it is also not self-evident whether relations between local stakeholders and higher-level actors lead to enhanced social learning and pro-environmental support. Notwithstanding these issues, both external and internal groups can create a strong network of influence with specific roles to protect the environment.
It has been shown that in the past decades of the 20th century, several major regional environmental developments took place specifically in Africa and Latin America. These developments were inspired by critical issues and questions brought forward by experts from other regions (Lahsen et al. 14).
However, contributions from within the regions were also noted as important throughout the stages. Funds and global cooperation reduced cases of isolated, few experts working alone on major environmental issues with global impacts. While China is not considered small or less wealthy, its investment in environmental research may not sufficiently meet the current levels of environmental threats and pollution witnessed.
Nevertheless, a network of influence would ensure that the interest group could learn from others while positively contributing to determine the best solutions. In addition, the interest group is most likely to attain greater national and global recognition while pressing for changes at the local levels. A network of influence would allow the interest group in China to assess their air pollution levels and propose solutions that can be adopted to formulate national policies on air pollution.
It is believed that when an interest group forms a strong network of influence, it is most likely to succeed. Through consolidating the comprehension of environmental pollution in China and focusing on support from various actors, it can achieve positive outcomes in influencing policies to support pro-environmental behaviors.
Applicability and feasibility: how it fits and departs from normal practices
A network of influence can be built and used for public advocacy effectively because it is shown that networks often go beyond the normal boundaries on influencing power and its distribution. Consequently, an influential interest group on air pollution can rapidly attain its goals.
The built network of influence display elements of flexibility and agility to allow its reviews constituents and reconfigure for emerging issues. Ideas about air pollution and control would freely compete while actors who have robust ideas will receive support for policy change. A network of influence would reduce risks of isolated collective action and develop a big better group that can influence policies sufficiently well in China.
The Chinese government has not yet come to acknowledge and appreciate the relevance of redistribution of power. Thus, it may oppose the rise of an influential network. An interest group must recognize this limitation and realize that the government is far much behind in addressing environmental issues relative to its global counterparts. It rarely accepts that curbing air pollution would ultimately improve the quality of life among Chinese.
In addition, the government has also failed to recognize that state power of today should concentrate on effective policy formulation through sharing and promoting ideas and practices that work rather than projecting military might to neighboring states. Therefore, a network of influence consists of experts should aim to project positive environmental values, interests and then set clear goals for the government and the public to meet for environmental protection.
It is imperative to recognize that public agencies, private actors and other global actors consisting of some civil society groups all require some levels of representation and influence in critical issues. Failure of representation of any organization can limit the possible contribution to policy formulation.
If, for instance, the Chinese government, its environmental protection agencies and local civil society groups cannot argue for the best case to protect the environment and public health, then a strong network of influence is necessary to work together with Chinese institutions to address these issues.
A network of influence will bring together a wider community of environmental experts to address the air pollution issue in China in a flexible manner that the government cannot. In this regard, the network of influence would show the inefficiency, ineffectiveness and irrelevancy of the government in addressing environment concerns. Meanwhile, the Chinese government should not abandon its role because of poor policies.
Instead, the government must be accountable and should seize this opportunity to evaluate its performance, functions and reform areas with flaws in environmental protection. If the government wants to join the network of influence but cannot sufficiently take part in it across all levels, then it must identify specific aspects of environmental policies that require transform and present to the network of influence.
Social media have been adopted in China in the recent past to push for changes in environmental policies based on how the state machinery has handled the issue of air pollution. The government and a section of the business communities, however, used the online media to advance their own narratives. For instance, corporations have seized business opportunities associated with the widespread air pollution to sell mask and filters specifically for PM2.5.
For several decades, the government dismissed air pollution as a non-issue caused by dust and fog while failing to account for the presence of PM2.5 particles in its reports. However, the U.S. Embassy located in Beijing started to provide data on the quality of air through social media in the year 2008, Chinese began to realize how compound the issue was.
Consequently, they also started to contribute on issue affecting the air quality, questioned the inadequacy of the government reports on PM 2.5, and a lack of intervention from the government. This section shows how social media can create a network of influence to promote public diplomacy on critical issues that affect the public.
Social media were responsible for raising public awareness and led to some action from the Chinese government to improve the quality of air. Otherwise, without the network of influence, the Chinese government was going to do nothing.
The infiltration of the network of influence by government officials and some members of the corporate world to shape discussions by advancing narrow views and profit-oriented agendas shows that not all members in a network of influence have the same interest.
Financial resources are required to facilitate advocacy while human capital, knowledge, and expertise on environmental advocacy issues would be critical success factors. Further, technological expertise to reach a global audience through the Internet will also be necessary.
Possible approaches using a network of influence to impact air pollution policies
A network of influence should strengthen the relations with major institutions and individuals to promote public diplomacy discourse with the aim of influencing the government and rogue business leaders.
The network should strengthen the relationship with other supporting organizations such as civil society groups, environmental conservation bodies, and NGOs for a larger audience base and support.
A global image, perhaps advanced by social media, would give the network of influence opportunities to share best practices in public diplomacy through idea sharing and policy formulation.
It must also create strong links with the locals, young leaders, and emerging leaders through various communication channels.
Evaluation of efforts
The interest group will observe changes in policies, Chinese government participation in processes, provision of current data on environmental issues, engaging all stakeholders, adoption and implementation of new policies. The actual impact would be demonstrated when the air quality in Beijing improves after implementation of new policies. Feedback will be used to advance future advocacy programs.
The current state of air pollution and other environmental pollution issues in China has reached an alarming level. Thus, a public diplomacy strategy involving the use of a network of influence consisting of a broad membership drawn from various professions, regions and sectors is most likely to influence air pollution policy in China and bring about change to protect the environment and public health.
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