An interesting take on transparency in China…

Media reports of the worst air pollution ever recorded in China’s capital Beijing, over the weekend of January 12-13 2013, have added urgency to a question that shadows China’s economic rise: how will the evolving Chinese state balance economic growth with increasing social pressure for better environmental management?

Yeling Tan offers clues to possible answers in her article  “Transparency without Democracy: The Unexpected Effects of China’s Environmental Disclosure Policy,” recently published by Governance. Conventional wisdom, said Tan in an interview, “is that transparency, accountability and democracy all move in the same direction.”

Her article re-examines the relationship among these concepts in the non-democratic context of contemporary China, and highlights some unexpected routes to improved outcomes, like pressure from multinational corporations (MNCs) that now use pollution data to monitor their Chinese suppliers.

“Information disclosure by itself won’t automatically lead to change,” said Tan, a doctoral candidate in the public policy program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In the article she analyzes the complex pathways through which the Chinese government’s 2008 Open Environmental Information (OEI) measures have impacted stakeholders such as citizens, businesses, and non-government organizations (NGOs) and MNCs.

Tan’s research for the article included three trips to China from 2009-2011, during which she interviewed academics, government officials, representatives of environmental NGOs and journalists to build a detailed picture of how the OEI regulations are being implemented in various cities and townships.

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