SPEAKER 1: The following is part of Cornell Contemporary China Initiative Lecture Series under the Cornell East Asia program. The arguments and viewpoints of this talk belong solely to the speaker. We hope you enjoy.
SPEAKER 2: We're very happy today to have Professor Alex Wang with us. Professor Wang finished his JD at NYU in 2000. And then he went on to practice law for over a decade, including time spent during that decade working for the Natural Resource Defense Fund. But then, in 2013, joined the faculty of UCLA's Law School where he is now teaching. So please join me in welcoming Professor Alex Wang.
ALEX WANG: Thanks so much for coming out today. As someone from Los Angeles, I was walking outside thinking, wow. This is really a terrible snow. I don't think anyone's going to come out. But I've learned from Robin that this doesn't even count as snow for you guys. So thank you for braving the weather anyway. To me, it seems like a big deal to come out in the cold for a talk.
So what I'm going to talk to you about today-- I'm going to tell you a little bit about the general environmental situation in China. And then I'm going to tell you about some research I'm working on right now that's still unpublished about the use of environmental information disclosure in China.
So as you just heard, I was a lawyer for 11 years before coming to academia. I spent about seven of those years in Beijing on the ground. I helped to set up the office for an NRDC in Beijing and lived through a really interesting period where there was very rapid economic growth after China's entry into the WTO. The Olympics came during that period. Pollution sort of reach crisis levels. China surpassed the US in carbon emissions. So a lot of things happened in China in general and in the environment in particular that are noteworthy.
And during that time, I basically worked on an environmental law reform project. So the two big issues I spent my time on were promoting public interest litigations-- sort of, the use of litigation to promote environmental advocacy-- and then also the expansion of environmental information disclosure. I'll tell you more about that, because it's really a important bread-and-butter aspect of environmental advocacy in the US and much of the world.
And so, through that experience, I saw really fascinating things on the ground, in terms of the openness of Chinese officials and Chinese citizens towards environmental protection and towards a diverse range of ideas, of different law and policy ideas, to solve very serious problems in China. But I also ran up constantly against the tensions and the conflicts between environmental policy and civic action and other prerogatives of the Chinese state-- interest in social stability, concern about foreign incursion, and economic interests that were threatened by the costs of environmental regulation.
So that's what I'll talk about today. So let's start a little bit with just some of the basics about what's going on in China. I think, at this point, everyone sort of knows the basic story about China's environment. This was not the case 10 years ago. But in the last 10 years, there's been a tremendous amount of media about China's environment. The media attention outside of China has spiked a few different times.
So you might remember, around the Beijing Olympics, there was a lot of focus on air pollution in China. Athletes were worried. Are we going to be able to perform, given the air pollution in China? And then most recently, around 2013, in January of 2013, there were very serious air pollution incidents in China where air pollution reached levels that you really only see in the US when there are forest fires. So this is a picture from that month, January 2013, taken by a guy named Bill Bishop, who's a sort of political commentator, observer, of China.
This is of downtown Beijing. Have people have been to downtown Beijing? The so-called CBD area, Central Business District of China? So this is taken from Bill Bishop's apartment in the Central Park Apartments. They like to name the apartments after American landmarks. And my old office was right here. So this was on a day where air pollution was not so bad. This is a picture taken from the same window later that month on a bad air pollution day.
So you can sort of see my office, maybe right there. But you get the picture, right? The air pollution was incredibly bad. People were calling it the Air-pocalypse in the Western media and that sort of thing. And of course, the environmental pressure is tremendous in all sorts of areas, not just air pollution. Air pollution has gotten the most attention. But it's serious in water pollution, soil pollution, species and habitat protection, and so on.
So I'll probably talk a lot about air pollution today. But remember that there is pressure in every area. And this has been going on for some time, even though public awareness of it has only increased in the last few years. So this is a picture I took from my own bedroom window in Beijing in 2006. Again winter, winter is particularly bad. Because all the boilers are burning coal that heat apartment buildings.
And so a lot of Chinese people don't often remember. So if you ask them, they might not say, well, I don't remember it being that polluted a decade ago. But it was still quite polluted a decade ago and even before. And so, the last few years the public attention, the public awareness, about environmental pollution has really skyrocketed.
So you might remember back even seven or eight years ago, if you saw someone wearing a facemask in China, it wasn't because of air pollution. Westerners thought, oh, maybe it's because the air pollution is bad. It was really generally if you had a cold or something. It was considered rude not to wear a face mask to shield your germs from being exposed to other people.
But the last few years, people have started to wear face masks because of air pollution. There have been a lot more jokes online about air pollution. Can you see what the joke is here? I don't know if you can read the caption here. This is from China's Twitter, Wiebo. And so you see the nine pictures here. And the captain says, from top to bottom, left to right, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, Llama Temple, Boulevard of Perpetual Peace.
I guess it's not a great joke. But you get the picture. You get the picture. So he's just saying, look, it's really polluted in Beijing. OK, so awareness about pollution has really increased. So let's look at something a little bit more scientific, some satellite photos of, how bad is the problem in China compared to the rest of the world?
So this is a little bit old. It's about a decade old, 2005 to 2007. Sulfur dioxide pollution, as measured by satellite data. And they measure the density of sulfur dioxide counts in similar sized landmasses in northeast-- this is us now, right? So where is the pollution? There are a lot of coal-fired power plants in Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia. This is Europe.
And then you could see China. At that time, the entire country was a hot-spot. Red means dense columns of sulfur dioxide. So much, much worse in China than in the US or Europe. Again, this gives you a global picture of nitrogen dioxide. So sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide comes from combustion, burning fossil fuels, power plants, burning coal, burning gasoline, these types of things. Nitrogen dioxide is also from the combustion of fossil fuels.
So again, you see the big hot-spot in China, particularly around the Beijing Khinjan. They call it the Jingjinji region. And also around Shanghai, the Yangtze River Delta, and then a little bit around the Pearl River delta, and a little bit around Chongqing and Chengdu. Channel You see, the rest of the world-- a little bit in India, Mexico City, Eastern Europe. But take the comparison, China versus the rest of the world.
And so recently, there's been a lot of data about air quality becoming available on the internet. So all sorts of third parties are taking this data processing and putting it on maps. Mapping technology is not that old. It's really coming in its own in recent years. So you can see the comparison, air quality in China-- so this is using the EPA's Air Quality Index Scale.
It's a scale from 0 to 500. Below 100 is within the standard-- in China, they call it a blue sky day. So anything that's green and yellow is within the air quality standard. So you can see, in China, almost nothing is within the air quality standard. And much of it is significantly out of compliance, in the 300s high 100s. 200s is the purples. You see Japan, South Korea, other countries are much better. Europe is much better-- again, only in Eastern Europe.
India is the only other country right now that's facing some similar problems to China. Look at the US. The West Coast, where I'm from, is worse. In the East Coast we have a relatively good-- and it's really Southern California, where I live, that has some of the worst. But it's relatively better, quite a lot better.
And so it's always useful to remember, though, that in the US we went through something similar. This is the picture from 1948 from the UCLA library. This is Los Angeles. Doesn't look all that different than the picture that you guys just saw, Bill Bishop's picture from Beijing. New York-- you may or may not know. In the '50s and '60s, there were some bad inversions, they call it, where the pollution gets trapped because of the climate.
And on several occasions, it caused 100-- 200-- 300 people to die from the air pollution. London-- famously, in the early '50s in London, there was a so-called London fog that killed upwards of 4,000 people. Does anyone like soccer or football? I guess this is an Arsenal game from 1954. You can't really see the field here.
So then, we've seen significant improvements in all of these places. So in LA these days, you see that most of West LA is between 50 and 100. Only sort of in-land, in this area around San Bernardino, is in the 100, 150 zone. And this is really among the worst in the US.
And overall-- this is an EPA slide. The EPA uses this all the time to drive home the point, look, we can have economic growth and we can have environmental protection, countering the people that say, look. Environmental protection comes at the cost of jobs and the economy. And they say, look, from 1980 to 2012, we reduced pollution by 70%, while our GDP was growing, vehicle miles traveled, population, et cetera.
Now, we also need to remember that, while environmental regulation in the US was a very important part of that story of cleaning up the US, some of it was due to economic transformation within the US. Like, all of your computers were probably made in China. Probably, a lot of the clothes you're wearing right now, the dying plants are probably in China. Maybe now it's moving to Bangladesh, some other places.
But all of that production creates pollution in China. So this is just a slide that illustrates that just on carbon emissions, carbon emissions associated with trade. So China's carbon emissions-- large parts of it are produced in the course of making products that are sold to the US, Europe, and Japan.
So there are a lot of studies on this. They're all over the map on the percentages. One of the more authoritative ones says something around 1/3 of the emissions in China are associated with export. So it's just something to remember as we look at the problem in China. But there are some signs that China is now starting to turn things around, which is really interesting.
So one of the earlier articles I wrote looked at how, in 2006, China set these hard targets for energy efficiency and pollution reduction. And so really, I view it as about 10 years ago, the system, from the center, started to try to implement some policies to do environmental protection in a more serious way, in narrow ways-- energy efficiency, sulfur dioxide. In recent years, they've expanded that, added more targets, added more pollutants, added a carbon intensity target.
So it may be that some of those policies are beginning to work. So this is satellite data. There's a lot of concern, as we'll talk about later, about data quality and data falsification. But this is satellite data, so it's at least more reliable. It's an objective view from outer space. You see that in 2005 to 2011 things got worse. So I don't know if you can see that.
So around this area, this zone gets bigger. So that was a period of intense coal-fired power-plant growth. Even Sarah Palin mentioned China's coal-fired power-plant building pace in one of the debates, back when she was running for office. And so that accounted for this worsening of pollution. But then, in the last five years, we've seen some reduction.
So you see it really around here, the Chongqing and Chengdu area, and then in the central area around Shanghai. It is still bad, right? But it's gotten a little bit better. In the meantime, India has gone quite a bit worse. You can see it from 2005 to 2011. And this is a slide that the blue shows decreases in particulate pollution. So you see that most of China has shown decrease over the last 10 years, this is. And then, India has been increasing.
So this may be because there has been economic slowdown. But also, the current policy in China is about economic transformation moving away from heavy industry, moving towards lower polluting, lower energy use, and using economic output. So those policies may be having an effect. I think more study is needed on that.
And you see that the average exposure that people are having-- the green line is China. Red line is India. This blue line is EU. And the line on the bottom is the United States. So the average exposure of citizens to pollution in China has gone down, even as India's has gone up. And so China is no longer the worst in the world now, it looks like, according to this study at least.
So that's just a little bit about the basic pollution situation in China. Now, I want to move to some specific research I'm doing now about environmental information disclosure. And I teach at a law school. I'm interested in the impact of law on environmental protection and about the ability of law to affect the way people live on the ground in China. So this is why I'm going to tell you a little bit about.
So let me ask you a question first. So how many of you know what a Freedom of Information regulation is? Has anyone studied that? Most of you are undergraduates, right? Does anyone know what the FOIA law is? Anyone willing to-- yeah?
Yeah, so that's one of the aspects. You can make a request, a FOIA request, to the government for government records. There are certain exceptions, things that the government doesn't have to disclose. But it's an open records kind of law. And it's associated with the idea, as Justice Brandeis said more than 100 years ago, that sunshine is the best of disinfectants. That it can void corruption and check power by having transparency. And it's associated with these ideas of democratic accountability and democracy.
So people don't normally associate China with transparency. So would it surprise you to know that China has been expanding its information disclosure regimes in a variety of respects? Does that seems surprising? Or no? It does not seem surprising? Head nods. A little bit surprising? OK. I'll assume that means that you're a little bit surprised by that.
So what has actually happened in the last few years is that China has begun to adopt a range of information disclosure or transparency measures. And I want to tell you a little bit about that, the research I'm doing about that. And I want to talk about mainly three questions related to that.
So one is, why do we think Chinese leaders are interested in information disclosure? Second, what are the social effects of that information disclosure? How do different state and society actors react to that disclosure of information? And then third, what are the implications of that for our understanding of Chinese governance and the likely success of environmental protection in China?
And one caution here is that this research was really based on my experience over the last 10 years. And a lot of people are sort of wondering, with the news recently about the political tightening in China under the current administration, are things changing now? So that's an open question that I'm not sure what the answer to is. But just to give you a sense that this is looking at things at a particular point in time. And I'll talk a little bit more about where I think things are heading towards the end.
OK, so let me first describe the phenomenon I'm examining. So I'm going to start with this story from a trip I took to southwestern China, Yunnan Province, about 10 years ago. I visited a lead and copper smelting region in southwest China. And one of the things we were trying to figure out-- we knew that there were probably lead pollution problems, heavy metal pollution problems that were affecting kids and other adults that lived in that area.
If you look at this factory, if you know anything about industrial facilities, you can tell that this is a bad factory. There's a lot of what are called "fugitive emissions." There's just smoke billowing out the sides. A good factory is sort of sealed and they keep the dust inside. You know, all of that dust is filled with lead and heavy metals. And you know that there's just crop land right around it. So that dust is just billowing into the crops.
And so a natural thing you would do in the US is you would try to get information about what was going on. What was being emitted by that factory? What pollution sources were at the factory? What pollution control did that factory have? Had they ever been fined? Or had they committed violations in the past? So we would know something about whether they were a good apple or a bad apple.
And so these types of things, as a matter of course, you can find out in the US and many other countries. But when we tried to find this information in China, it wasn't available. This was 10 years ago, before a lot of the information disclosure laws had been passed.
And so, at the time, we had to throw up our hands. We did the best we could with our study. But we weren't really able to figure out a lot of information that we needed. And the local officials considered much of that information to be sensitive.
Just as another example, even more recently, just in 2011-- this is just five years or four years ago-- a leading NGO, environmental group in Beijing, they put out a report about pollution sources in China. And they went down to look at a power plant in Hubei province, just outside of Beijing. And they write in their report, looking at this enormous plant and it's continuously ascending white smoke, we feel the [INAUDIBLE] plant still has a lot of hard work to undertake until it can effectively reduce its energy consumption.
Their advocacy approach was very coarse. Because they couldn't really get at exactly what was being polluted. They sensed that this looked bad. But they weren't able to penetrate the facility, because it was really difficult to get information about the facility. So things started to change around 2007, 2008.
So in 2008, China passed a Freedom of Information Act-like regulation, a general one. And the first ministry to pass implementing regulations was the Environmental Ministry about environmental information. More recently, in an amendment to the Environmental Protection Law that just passed in 2014, they had this provision and a entire section about public participation and information disclosure.
If you know anything about China, 15 years ago, you really didn't see this. There's much less ability-- formal law about public participation and ability to participate in this way. So this was a big deal to people who were working on this, for the law to really emphasize public participation and disclosure. And so that disclosure started to allow us to do things like this.
So there's now hourly disclosure of emissions. I showed you a slide like this before. So a lot of people could get a sense of what the pollution was like around you. Does anyone have this app on their phones? No one?
So if you're interested, you want to know what the pollution is in Beijing and some other cities in China, you can just download this app. I think it's just called, maybe, China Air Quality or something like that. But you get real-time US Embassy and Consulate related data, as well as the official Chinese data ranks of the air pollution day. And lot of people in China use these apps these days to check what the air quality is before they go out for the day.
And then, more recently, what's been really interesting is trying to pass some rules to require about the top 15,000 polluters in China to disclose hourly emissions data, what they call real-time monitoring the data, emissions data. And that really was a dramatic change. Because not even the US really requires disclosure of that frequency. We have disclosure every few months or annually or something like that. But this was hourly emissions data.
And so now, third parties, NGOs, have started to put that data into apps. And this is enabled by the whole smartphone world. And so you can see here-- this is also an app that you can download. It's called the [CHINESE]. And you could see what the pollution situation is in China. This is all official government data. And it shows that, at any given time-- this is a little bit of an older screen-shot, but if you open it right now, it would look the same.
It always looks about like this. Several hundred, if not thousands of facilities are violating the law. The red means they're exceeding standards. Blue means they're complying with standards. Gray means there's no data. So you can see, there's some missing data. There's some compliance. But there's a lot of noncompliance.
So that's quite a big deal. If you wanted to be an advocate, that's very different than what this NGO was able to do four years ago when they said, we sense that this firm, this plant, is bad. But we're not really sure what's going on. Now, they have ability to see exactly how long they've been violating the law.
Information disclosure has also allowed for new ways of interaction between the citizens and the government. So this comes from the Weibo's account of the local environment protection bureau in the area of those photos I showed you at the very beginning, those smelters. So if you remember, I said, 10 years ago, we couldn't really get any information about it. But now, a lot of those plants in that area are subject to this requirement I just told about, this hour emissions disclosure.
Some citizens saw violations at those plants and complained about it to the local environmental protection bureau. And that environmental protection bureau has posted some information about what they see is going on at those plants, explaining some of the violations, and saying what they're going to do about those violations. So that's a new way of engaging with the authorities.
Also, in terms of transnational networks, this has enabled a different kind of advocacy. So as we talked about earlier, a lot of products that we all buy here in the US are made in China. So among those, Apple. I have my iPhone. I have my MacBook Air and these types of things. So China has the most suppliers in the world in China. 334 of them.
So if you remember, back when Steve Jobs was around, they were notoriously secretive about their suppliers. They would not tell you the names of them, who they were, anything about them. But then, over the years, there was news coming out. Locals were suffering from local water pollution, air pollution, and finding out or suspecting that those plants were making things for Apple.
Sometimes, it was that the plant itself probably violated some agreement or contract and was bragging on their website that they made things for Apple. But there were ways that people found out that, oh, those plants actually made products for Apple. And the NGOs in China wrote a lot of reports, put a lot of pressure on Apple. And Apple finally agreed to set up a supplier report, disclose who its suppliers were, and work with local Chinese NGOs to solve pollution problems coming from their suppliers.
And I've sat in on meetings with the Apple folks. And it's quite amazing, the change from completely shutting the Chinese NGOs out to engage in active and what seemed to me to be a very positive engagement. And so, for example, this comes from Apple's supplier report. They say, well, in 2014, they found that there were 30 sites with 49 violations. And they worked with the local Chinese NGO to remediate those violations.
So I think one way to think about this-- and it's not the only way to think about it. But I think that information disclosure and public supervision has arisen out of the convergence of state and society interests. So I think most of the leadership thinks of disclosure in terms of control of local agents. It's a different way than we tend to think of freedom of information.
The rhetoric about freedom of information in the US is very much about bottom-up democratic accountability. But I think that the leadership in China tends to think of it more in terms of a principal agent kind of bureaucratic control kind of framework, where information asymmetry or the lack of information about local actors limits your ability to have control.
So we all know that China is a notoriously fragmented system, both horizontally and vertically. And you can see that information disclosure is one way to limit that fragmentation. So before, you maybe didn't care so much about pollution. But these days, you care more about what local governments are doing to enforce against local polluters. So you want more information about that to be disclosed, so you can have a greater ability to control those actors, if you like.
The way a lot of the citizens and NGOs talk about it is a different sort of rhetoric. It's about the right to information. You talk about it in terms that are more consistent with, maybe, what we're familiar with in the states. And so those two different views converge in this area of information disclosure and public supervision. So you sort of have the state and society on the same page about environment protection information disclosure.
But the rhetoric is, I think, meaningfully different, a control rhetoric versus a bottom-up rhetoric are meaningfully different. And I think that mix of different ideas in the Chinese system is an interesting one that the law has introduced. Now, what does this allow people to do, now that there has been this convergence?
So there are four different types of things that we've seen from this information disclosure. One is citizens are able to act like what that political scientists call "fire alarms." You notify the authorities that there's a problem. And the authorities then go and solve them. It allows the citizens to act as policy entrepreneurs. They have more information. So they can participate in the policy-making process.
And so, when I was working in China, there was a lot of this sort of engagement with NGOs and looking for ideas to solve a very difficult problem. And so, information disclosure is supportive of that. There's also a phenomenon which I'm calling "fire brigades" here, which is the citizens themselves implementing enforcement. So I think that's sort of supply-chain effort, essentially sidestepping the government and working with corporations to regulate against local polluters-- a example of fire brigades.
And also, it allows people to engage in self-help. It's very frustrating when you suspect there are problems. And this is a concern of a lot of officials. I've been part of a lot of trainings where officials have advised local officials that, look. Lack of information tends to lead to rumormongering and more instability. Information actually allows people to understand what's going on, allows them to engage in self-help-- staying indoors, getting air filters, if they have the means, moving to less polluted parts of the country, that sort of thing.
This whole process only works if, ultimately, in the implementation, the citizens' and the state leaders' goals are relatively aligned. If citizens are, in a populist way, supporting what the leadership wants to do, then the leadership and is OK with that. But also, in China we know that people are increasingly individualistic and don't necessarily want to toe the party line.
So it creates a tension here that creates a dilemma for the leadership and for the people, the citizens who want to use information. And so, there are a few different ways that the state can limit and exercise more control over the use of information disclosure. So I want to talk about a few of these.
So one thing that the government can do is simply be selective about when it discloses information. So this slide comes from a ranking that I worked on with a Chinese environmentalist named Ma Jun, starting in about 2008. We ranked environmental information disclosure in 113 cities. And the surprising finding was that there is actually a wide range of performance. About 30 cities actually did reasonably well. And the rest of them did modestly well to extremely poor disclosure.
And that was against the conventional wisdom that everyone thought no one was going to want to disclose. But some people did. Some people didn't. So you can see that some cities are not disclosing for whatever reason. Studies have shown that it might be because of resource reasons or it might be because local economic interests are putting pressure on the government not to disclose.
And so, in those cases, the information disclosure law is drafted quite broadly, such that the government officials can rely on certain exceptions-- state stability, state secrets, these types of things-- to not disclose information. So for example, soil pollution has traditionally been somewhat sensitive. And it's often very difficult to get access to soil pollution.
Another thing that can be done to thwart and limit the usefulness of information disclosure is data falsification. There's a lot of news about data falsification. A former research assistant of mine, when I was at NRDC, discovered massive falsification of blue sky data in advance of the Beijing Olympics. It caused a sensation in the press for a time.
In 2012, other researchers identified a so-called gigaton gap in energy data. Meaning that there was a gap in the energy data at the provincial level and at the central level that amounted to 1.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions, which is greater than the annual emissions of Japan. That's a lot of emissions. So you have to ask yourself, if the data is that inaccurate, what use can you make of it?
And more recently, the Ministry of Environmental Protection-- this slide here on the left-- every few months they've been running these naming and shaming factories that have been manipulating their data, modifying their monitoring equipment to show falsified data. And so that's a good thing that they're enforcing against these companies. But the number of plants that are falsifying should make us a little bit worried.
The other thing to note though is, even if data is being falsified, at any given moment there's still hundreds, if not thousands, of factories that are shown to be violating the law. So if they're falsifying also, they're not doing a great job of falsifying. They falsified their data so that it shows that they're still violating the law. Which is to say that, even if you're concerned about data falsification, there's still use that you can make of this data.
Now, even with the data that's gotten out there, there's ways that the state is limiting or signaling to citizens that they shouldn't get out of hand with what they're using the data for. So some of it's very explicit-- rules of hard control. So among the NGO community there was concern when this document, Party Document number 9, was leaked into the press. It was a document that showed that the leadership was very suspicious and did not approve of a number of Western values-- civil society, checks and balances, open media, these types of things.
So that was a signal. At least, that was meant for the party members that, look, we're not going with fully Western values here. So that was one signal. The other type of signal is enforcement signals. Has anyone seen this documentary? How many people have seen this documentary Under the Dome? A few people? OK.
So for those who haven't seen it, this came out about a year ago, the end of February on a Saturday, I think, around February 28. It was a TED Talk style, Inconvenient Truth style documentary about China's pollution problems. And it's a great documentary. You should check it out if you haven't seen it. It's sort of humorous. It's very frank.
One of my favorite parts of the documentary is the reaction of the audience. They talk very frank about corruption and poor enforcement and implementation at the local level. And you can see the audience just sort of laughing, because they sort get, yeah, this is common. And you sense the frustration a little bit in the audience.
But so, this documentary was released on February 28, on a Saturday. By Monday, there was probably 100 million views. By Tuesday, there seemed to be about 200 million views. And then by Tuesday and Wednesday, there were leaked-- the propaganda apparatus had started to send signals, don't play up Under the Dome. And by Thursday, it had been blocked. Under the Dome had been blocked and pulled from the internet just in advance of the NPC meeting last year.
And so, when that happened, it leads to a lot of the advocates who want to use information to do things-- everyone in the aftermath of this was speculating. Well, what does it mean? What does it mean for what we can do going forward? Does it mean that things are tightening? Does it mean that we should be more careful? And everyone's trying to figure it out.
And the reaction of some people is to self-regulate a little bit more, to say, look, oh, I don't want to be caught up in that web. I'm going to pull back a little bit. Other people thought, well, you know, that's a unique situation. It was viewed by so many people so suddenly that it drew a reaction. But I'm going to keep going ahead. But the point is that the uncertainty that that sort of enforcement creates leads to a certain degree of self-regulation and self-censorship.
And then the other thing is that, even though Western observers tend to think of transparency as a good, leading to more accountability, better environmental performance, environment regulation, and that sort of thing. There's a way that transparency also has a dark side, right? We know this in the US. There has been some press recently about the way that some people on Twitter have been attacked in a way that has led to consequences that seem outsized for what they said on Twitter.
So it's led to some debate about, well, this new transparent world-- is there a way for us to maintain privacy and maintain our own sense of self? And you can see that, in the Chinese system at least, there are a few ways in which transparency is being used as a way to exercise control in ways that, at least, Western observers would feel uncomfortable.
So one example is there's a foreign NGO law draft that's out right now. And a big part of the mechanism there is disclosure, disclose who you're working with, who you're funded by. And of course, this kind of law can be quite innocuous. But it's certainly not viewed that way by all the foreign NGOs working in China. It's viewed as an effort to chill certain types of behavior. And it's already having that effect, even as this draft is out. And it hasn't been passed.
Other form of transparency is the, essentially, sort of perp walks, these self-confessions on TV. That's a form of transparency. We talk about naming and shaming for regulatory purposes. This is naming and shaming for a certain type of regulatory purpose, a security-related regulatory purpose. And we might want to debate what we think of that approach to the use of transparency.
So this is the last slide. And I'd love to take some questions from you all. So what's the takeaway from all this? I think what interests me about this is that, again, this is a tool that people often associate as a good, as a tool of democratic accountability. And because of this convergence of interests between leadership and citizens, it's getting broad play within the Chinese system.
The other thing that this emphasizes is that, whereas a lot of the news when we go to China, is about social control and crackdowns and this sort of thing, this shows a side of China that's focused on performance, trying to solve a serious problem with environmental pollution using tools that are transplanted from the West, but changing them in ways that are particular to the Chinese system.
But then, even as the state is trying to deal with the environmental risks and the problems that creates, it's also worried about security risks from social stability, collective action, that sort of thing. And that is always creating pressure on the use of transparency as a regulatory tool. And I would be worried that it limits the effectiveness of that tool for driving environmental performance if state regulators worry too much about the security aspect and tamp down on the ability of citizens to use information freely for environmental advocacy.
And so among activists on the ground, people that I talk to are still going about their business, doing the things they've always done. But in the last few years, the climate seems to be one of political [? timing. ?] And people are worried that they're more at-risk of crossing lines that they shouldn't be crossing. And so, these sorts of tensions render the prospects for environmental regulation uncertain. And they may limit the very hope for impacts of these disclosure tools that the state is trying to implement.
OK, so I'll end there. Hopefully, we'll get some clean air. Mark Zuckerberg was running in Beijing the other day. There's been some discussion about the air pollution there, so I thought I'd end with that picture. OK, so I'd love to hear some questions and have some discussion.
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Alex Wang, Professor of Law at UCLA, outlines both the potential benefits and drawbacks of environmental disclosure laws in China which call for greater transparency in the dissemination of national pollution data. Recorded March 21, 2016 as part of the East Asia Program’s Cornell Contemporary China Initiative Lecture Series. Co-sponsored by the Clarke Program for East Asia Law and Culture.