John Kuo, NRDC China Program Environmental Law Project Research Fellow
Predicting Chinese policy changes can be a bit like divining tea leaves. At a judges and lawyers training hosted by NRDC this past weekend, a prominent Chinese judge offered his thoughts on the future of Chinese environmental policy. The judge said the central government plans to provide concrete support for the implementation of the 12th five-year plan’s environmental policy. The evidence for this, however, is less concrete. As is often the case in China, subtle semantic changes can lead to large policy shifts.
The indicator of China’s newly urgent focus on environmental policy is a change in one word, the judge explained. In the past, the Chinese government preached the “Construction of a Well-Off Society” (建设小康社会), but is now preaching the “Completion of a Well-Off Society” (建成小康社会). The judge argued that the shift from “construction” to “completion” represented an increased sense of urgency. But what is a “well-off society?”
According to the Chinese government, a “well-off society” is a prerequisite for a “Beautiful China” (美丽中国)—the government’s end goal of having an equal civilization. A “well-off society” relies on four component factors: 1) economic development (经济发展) 2) democracy advancement (民主进步) 3) Life and Environment improvement (生活和环境改善4) Prosperity of culture (文化繁荣). “Environment” can be broken down even further into “a promotion of resource conservation” (全面促进资源节约) and “strengthening ecological systems and environmental protection” (加大自然生态系统和环境保护力度). It may seem as if Party officials are speaking in code, but underneath ostensibly nebulous decrees one can often find specific policy changes.
The judge suggested another semantic shift to emphasize his belief that China would focus on the environment and a “well-off society’s” component parts. Instead of a “Beautiful China,” the government should focus on creating a “Good China” (美好中国). “Beautiful,” he argued is too superficial, while “good” reflects a strengthening of the basic needs for society. To see whether these verbal gymnastics materialize in concrete policy changes, stay tuned for more updates.