Book Talk: Clean Air at What Cost? The Rise of Blunt Force Regulation in China, by Denise van der Kamp (Oxford)
Denise van der Kamp, Associate Professor, Oxford University’s School of Global and Area Studies
China’s green transition is often perceived as a lesson in authoritarian efficiency. In a mere few years, the state managed to improve air quality, contain dissent, and restructure an economy plagued by overcapacity. Much of this was achieved through a top-down, “blunt force” solutions, such as forcibly shuttering or destroying factories. In this talk, I argue that China’s blunt force pollution regulation is, in fact, a product of weak state capacity and weak bureaucratic control. Drawing on two years of fieldwork in China’s industrial heartlands, I show how the blunt force regulation is used, not to scare polluters into respecting pollution standards, but to scare bureaucrats into respecting central orders. Analysis based on satellite data shows that these measures have successfully improved air quality in almost all Chinese cities, but at immense social and economic cost. I argue that blunt force regulation is part of broader transition towards “governance by uncertainty” in China where, instead of offering credible commitments, the state resorts to sudden surveillance and ad hoc implementation to achieve its goals. I examine what this might mean for the future of market governance in China.
Denise van der Kamp is an Associate Professor at Oxford University’s School of Global and Area Studies. Her research explores issues in developmental politics and environmental governance, with a focus on China. In particular, she examines strategies for implementing policies in contexts where both rule of law and civil society are weak. Denise received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley, and was previously an Assistant Professor at City University of Hong Kong.