From Support to Pressure: The Dynamics of Social and Governmental Influences on Environmental Law Enforcement in Guangzhou City, China


This paper examines how regulation functions in China’s dynamic authoritarian setting through the study of changes in political and social influences on environmental enforcement in Guangzhou city between 2000 and 2006. The paper finds that a form of 'decentered regulation' has developed in the dynamic authoritarian context of Guangzhou city, as regulatory enforcement is no longer the sole affair of the government and the regulatory bureaucracy, but has been increasingly influenced by societal forces. It was found that by 2006, the rise of civil society and its increased support for the environment had had a double-edged impact on the enforcement of environmental regulations. While in 2000 societal support improved enforcement effectiveness perceived by enforcement officials if local government support was high, by 2006, societal support improved their perceived enforcement effectiveness only in cases where political support was low. When political support was high, extra societal support for environmental regulation produced a negative effect on enforcement effectiveness. The transformation over time shows the promise and limits of decentered regulation in Guangzhou’s dynamic authoritarian setting. It demonstrates that there is a consistent ability of societal forces to counterbalance governments who do not support their own regulation. However, it also shows that with the rise of civil society and increased concerns over social instability, a resultant overburdening of political and social pressures can jointly create a negative effect on enforcement.

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