Topic: A New Way for the Middle Kingdom? Dr. Alex Wang on Political Legitimacy and Environmental Protection in China
China has been at once the poster child for rapid industrialization and subsequent environmental deterioration. But can improving Chinese environmental quality become a priority on par with maintaining rapid economic growth? Dr. Alex Wang suggests that it already has.
In this episode, a collaborative effort with the Harvard Environmental Law Review (HELR), S&S features recent work by Dr. Alex Wang on the subtle yet significant shifts in the prioritization of environmental issues among the Chinese political leadership — changes which have already begun to have an effect on the ground. Wang argues that Chinese leadership sees environmental pollution as a critical challenge to political legitimacy of the ruling communist party, and that shifts at the top have resulted in concerted efforts (albeit at times clumsy and inefficient) by local governments to clean up their act. How are local governments balancing these twin goals of environmental protection and economic growth? What are some of the key challenges? How do the political idiosyncrasies of the Chinese system aid or hamper the process? Dr. Wang, Jisung, and Sachin Desai of HELR discuss these and other issues.
Mr. Wang was a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) based in Beijing and the director of NRDC’s China Environmental Law & Governance Project for nearly six years. In this capacity, he worked with China’s government agencies, legal community, and environmental groups to improve environmental rule of law and strengthen the role of the public in environmental protection. He helped to establish NRDC’s Beijing office in 2006. He was a Fulbright Fellow to China from 2004-05. Prior to that, Mr. Wang was an attorney at the law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in New York City, where he worked on mergers & acquisitions, securities matters, and pro bono Endangered Species Act litigation. He was selected to the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations’ Public Intellectuals Program 2008-10, and is a member of the Advisory Board to the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations.
Mr. Wang is a regular speaker on issues related to China and environmental protection, and has been an invited speaker at various institutions, such as the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society. His commentary has appeared in such places as the New York Times, Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg News, China Daily, Global Times, Time Magazine, National Public Radio, Marketplace, and CCTV.
Image Credits: New York Times