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Research puzzle

Growing out of the central hypothesis, the main research question this study aims to answer is how Chinese interest groups influence environmental foreign relations. I conceptualise environmental foreign relations across a spectrum to reflect the changing paradigms of environmental cooperation between China and the outside world. On one end of the spectrum is learning from best practices abroad. On the other end is the provision of alternative methods.

ideas and norms, which are claimed to be intrinsically Chinese. This spectrum is also indicative of the dual identity of the Chinese state in this sphere: a follower and, at the same time, a prospective leader in global environmental governance.

This book examines three representative points along the spectrum, which can be understood as three dimensions of China’s environmental foreign relations: treaty implementation, bilateral exchange of experiences and the provision of an alternative norm in global environmental governance. Treaty implementation is situated at the end of learning, as this is an effort to comply with international environmental norms. On the other end is the provision of the alternative norm of “ecological civilisation”. This notion highlights the deployment of Chinese culture and philosophy in pursuit of sustainable development. Between these two ends, there is the development of the Chinese experience, which reflects a process by which the best practice of environmental governance from abroad is localised in China. Moreover, through trial and error, various exercises provide ingredients of the Chinese experience, in which a Chinese environmental norm, that is, “ecological civilisation”, is grounded.

Methodological note

An investigation of the three dimensions outlined in the research question requires methodology to tease out explanatory factors (both causal and correlational). I use a combination of quantitative methods to present a broad picnrre and a qualitative approach to provide in-depth analysis. Archival research helps to “look at old issues in new ways”38 and to “draw attention to aspects of the state and society that are easily brushed under the carpet in sources that pay more attention to elites”.39 It is precisely becattse of the new insights that could be discovered through archival research that allows one to “ground and fill out abstract ideas in messy reality and local interpretations”.401 conducted archival research of China Environment News front May to My 2015 in the National Library of China to provide an overview of China’s environmental foreign relations and how it is presented to the public, including to domestic groups.

In the empirical chapter on treaty implementation, I deploy content analysis, “a research technique for making replicable and valid inferences by systematically identifying specified characteristics of the message”.41 By coding and analysing data, this method aims to explore covert meanings in selected texts. This quantitative method allows one to observe trends, patterns and developments and address “what” and “how” questions based on a priori research design. I use content analysis to code the efforts of different domestic groups in implementing two selected environmental treaties: the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Montreal Protocol. In the same chapter, I deploy a comparative case study to explain why one treaty is “better” implemented than the other. The comparison allows me to control for other variables, to identify sufficient and necessary conditions and to identify the scope of conditions which trigger causal mechanisms. Following Mill’s method of difference.

comparison allows for the identification of crucial differences, which explains different outcomes and gets closer to the causal mechanism.42 Based on observation derived from the comparison, it is possible to achieve “concept formation”.43 The fact that the formation is based on specific cases on the ground, a “conceptual stretch”, describing the inability of a concept to suit new cases when applied to a wider range of cases, is minimised.44 Since comparative case study investigates small-N cases, the action of defining cases makes generalisation possible.45

For the chapter on bilateral exchange of ideas and experiences, I first conducted two pilot interviews in August 2013 in Beijing, one with an NGO officer and another with an official working in the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The purpose of the pilot interview was to gauge the political sensitivity of the selected topic and the feasibility of obtaining primary data regarding the role of interest groups in China’s environmental foreign relations. The pilot interviews confirmed the feasibility of my research design, and I returned to Beijing hi 2015 to continue my fieldwork. The majority of interviews were administered from April 2015 to May 2016 in London. Beijing and Vientiane. As most of the interviewees requested strict anonymity, I could only present them in the broad category of NGO officers, party officials, government officials, international NGO officers, consultants and scholars. An exception to the principle of anonymity was the interviewees mentioned in Chapter 4, in which I examine the organisation of the Global Environmental Institute (GEI). I interviewed six cimeut officers, one former officer, one prominent Chinese scholar (who requested anonymity) and the executive director, Mis Jin Jiaman, as all of them had been directly and indirectly involved with GEI’s operation hi Laos. Overall, I conducted 35 interviews via Skype, telephone, WeChat and face to face. Table 1.1 summarises the dates and lengths of the inteiviews, with the interviewee’s identity indicated by then- position and affiliation.

Unforeseen difficulties in securing interviews drove me to reach for otlier means to capnire the whole stoiy, and I added participant observation as another key component of my fieldwork. Participant observation was premised on the assumption of naturalism, namely "[T]he nearer we get to the conditions in which [the people we are studying] actually do attribute meanings to objects and events, the more accurate our description of those meanings are likely to be”.46 For instance, in Chapter 5,1 adopt participant observation to understand the debate, the logic and the mentality of scholars and government officials when faced with interpreting a new political slogan. This was done by participating in internal workshops while I was in Beijing.

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