2013. Vol.2, No.4, 161-168
Published Online November 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/chnstd) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/chnstd.2013.24027
Open Access 161
International Public Opinion on China’s Climate Change Policies
Valerie Victoria Benguiat y Gomez
UNEP-TONGJI Institute of Environment for Sustainable Development, Tongji University, Shanghai, China
Email: vbenguiat@gm ail.com
Received September 3rd, 2013; revised Oc tober 7th, 2013; accepted October 15th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Valerie Victoria Benguiat y Gomez. This is an open access article distributed under the Crea-
tive Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any me-
dium, provided the o riginal work is properly cited.
With the emergence of a global public sphere and the revolution of global media, international public
opinion has gained an intrinsic importance for effective multilateral cooperation. Global governance ini-
tiatives are subject to international public opinion, and climate change is the single most important global
governance issue of our time. Tackling climate change requires a fundamental transformation of the
global economy, with an emphasis on sustainable development. Due to its political and economic weight,
China can push forward UN climate change negotiations, and can do so without compromising its na-
tional development goals (China’s National Climate Change Programme, 2007). China’s national policies
are beyond what is required from developing nations, but international public opinion often perceives a
different message. This paper holds that a national branding strategy will help convey China’s current ef-
forts, allowing a better understanding among nations in order to break the climate change negotiations
deadlock. This research merged perception analysis and public opinion surveys with mass media qualita-
tive and quantitative analysis to gain a full insight into what the international climate change decision-
makers, opinion-leaders and general public think about China’s position at the UNFCCC negotiations. As
seen in the findings of the present research, the climate of opinion is unfavorable to China. Overall, the
results show that China is perceived as a negative influence in the negotiations. China’s climate change
efforts are being overlooked by international public opinion. But the reason lies in China’s current dis-
course, where climate change and the environment are always downplayed by the right to develop
(D’Hooghe, 2011). According to China’s 12th Five Year Plan, the new path for the country is marked by
its commitment to achieve growth through low carbon development, with a strong focus on addressing
climate change and energy challenges (Shealy & Dorian, 2007). The results of this study show that the
positive intentions and actions of the Chinese government aren’t being accurately perceived by public
opinion. The empirical findings in this study provide a new understanding of one specific part of the
overall image that the world has about China. Whilst this study did not confirm unequivocally that in-
ternational public opinion directly determines the outcomes of international negotiations and foreign pol-
icy, it did partially substantiate the concept that there’s a correlation between China’s public declarations
and actions, the negotiators declarations to the press, press coverage in general, the attitude of experts to-
wards China, and the attitudes and perceptions of uninformed public towards China. The study concludes
that China requires a country rebranding strategy, and presents solid data as to which areas China has to
tackle. This paper can be a working base for the national branding strategy, but by no means intends to be
a complete evaluation of China’s brand.
Keywords: Climate Change; Public Opinion; Perception Analysis; International Negotiations
Climate change is not only a scientific and technical problem
but also an economic and geopolitical issue. Currently, climate
change negotiations are the means through which governments
are trying to address dubious success with an unequivocally
global issue (Pachauri et al., 2007). A poor understanding
among nations has obstructed climate change negotiations and
the world has been unable to reach a binding agreement that
will get the wheels turning.
Due to its intrinsic weight in UNFCCC negotiations, the
current research focuses on China, and on public opinion re-
garding China’s perceived climate change actions. The current
research is based on the informed assumption that China can
unlock the negotiations, and can push them out of the stagnant
phase they have fallen into. It’s China’s turn to shine as the
mobilizing force it can become (Harris, 2010).
As a background, it is important to know that China first be-
came involved in international discussions on climate change in
the 1980s when it collaborated with the United States to study
the impacts of CO2 emissions, thus beginning a process of
growing Chinese involvement and interest in climate diplomacy
and its impact on international relations, economics, and the
environment (Heggelund, 2007). China’s climate change di-
plomacy became more proactive in the 1990s when it joined
with other developing countries to influence the negotiations of
the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate and the 1997
Kyoto Protocol (Harris, 2011).
Now, China continues this commitment started so long ago.
China’s latest climate change policies are based on: 1) ad-
dressing climate change within the broader framework of the
country’s national sustainable development strategy; 2) fol-
lowing the principle of common but differentiated responsibili-
ties (CBDR); 3) addressing both climate change mitigation and
adaptation; 4) integrating climate change policies with eco-
nomic development plans (Wang & Watson, 2009); 5) devel-
oping and receiving new technologies for effectively mitigating
and adapting to climate change; and 6) participating actively
and extensively in international cooperation on c lima te c hange.
However, developed countries have been pushing China into
taking more aggressive actions against climate change, and
above all, to allow monitoring of those actions, a petition that
China blatantly refused for a long time. China has strongly
opposed to proposals requiring independent monitoring, review
and verification (MRV) of its pledge to reduce the carbon in-
tensity of its economy by 40 - 45 percent by 2020. According to
Paul G. Harris, “these sorts of demands have run up against
China’s profound sense of grievance generally vis-a-vis the
outside world for 20th-century intervention in Chinese affairs”
(Harris, 2011), especially the ones that contradict China’s idea
that only developed countries are to blame for climate change.
Currently, there is limited research focused on the pressure
groups involved in climate change international negotiations.
There has been little discussion about the role of public opinion
on the process and outcomes of climate change negotiations.
Furthermore, there has been no research on how public opinion
regarding a specific country can affect how others negotiate
with said country; in this case, with China.
The purpose of the current study was to determine and draw
recommendations to rebrand China’s climate change interna-
tional discourse, based on the state of international public
opinion on China’s climate change policies. Based on media
analysis, interviews with experts and collecting information
from general public, this research explored what people think of
China and why.
The author aims to generate knowledge that will help more
clearly frame a communications and PR strategy that can en-
able China to better portray its unprecedented environmental
efforts, and provide insights for Chinese policy and decision-
makers into the relevance of international public opinion.
The geographic scope of the thesis is limited only by lan-
guage barriers. The study required no other fieldwork than in-
terviews and surveys. The surveys and interviews have been
collected based on language ability of the researcher and Inter-
net access of the interviewees.
Given the multidisciplinary nature of an international public
opinion analysis, it would be difficult to exhaust the topic in
one paper, even for a topic as concrete as China’s climate
change policies. To generate reliable and replicable results, this
thesis limits itself to assessing the current climate of opinion of
countries, which participate in UNFCCC negotiations, and only
on the recipients’ side of China’s climate change messages—
both explicit and implicit.
For the methodology, this research merged perception analy-
sis (derived from psychology and most commonly used in
marketing and public relations) (Galindo, 1998) and public
opinion analysis (belongs to social sciences, most commonly
used for political purposes) with mass media analysis (Alvarez-
Gayou Alvarez, 2003) to gain a full insight into what the inter-
national climate change decision-makers, opinion-leaders and
general public think about China’s position at the UNFCCC
Public opinion is defined as the prevailing and widespread
belief of the majority of people in a society about a given sub-
ject or issue (D’Adamo, Beaudoux, & Freidenberg, 2007). The
tools for analysing public opinion are questionnaires, inter-
views, focus groups and media analysis (Boeije, 2010). Percep-
tion and brand analyses also rely on these tools, and form part
of the non-political part of public opinion.
A perception study is a survey, or series of surveys, that as-
sesses the market’s opinions on a target, in the case of this re-
search, the international opinions on China (Siniscalco &
Auriat, 2005). A perception analysis provides a better under-
standing of what matters most to the audience. What do people
care about? What are th e current priorities of our audience? Are
we communicating our messages correctly? What do people
think about our brand? And as a consequence, it allows the
communicators to better design their messages. How can we
change people’s mind? How can we influence people’s opinion
about our brand (in this case, about China)?
A brand is the idea or image of a specific product or service
that consumers connect with, by identifying the name, logo,
slogan, or design of the company who owns the idea or image
(Erhardt, 2012). Countries can be seen like complex ideological
products that also have a brand. Every country has its own
reputation, brand image, brand identity, and brand value
(Forbes, 2010). The people, tourism, culture, governance, eco-
nomic strategies (exports, investment and immigration), con-
tribute to the country’s image. The ultimate objective of know-
ing and handling a country’s brand is to reduce the perception
gap between the brand identity (projected by the country, what
the country wants to say) and brand image perceived by the rest
of the world (Frost, 2004). In this case, reducing the gap be-
tween what China wants to communicate (We are a sustainable
country, committed to ambitious emission reductions) and what
other countries are perceiving (China is the biggest polluter in
the world, unwilling to commit to emission reductions).
Both the brand and public opinion are reflected in mass me-
dia. Media content analysis has both qualitative and quantita-
tive approaches (Niño-Zarazúa, 2012). In the present research,
both will be taken into consideration. Early experts in commu-
nication tended to favour the quantitative approach, like
Berelson (Busha & Harter, 1980), who described media content
analysis as a “research technique for the objective, systematic
and quantitative description of the manifest content of commu-
nication” (Macnamara, 2005).
Contemporary experts favour an analysis that includes quan-
titative and qualitative methods. Qualitative analysis studies the
meaning—or possible meanings—of the text in question, the
likely interpretations of the audience, what is the meaning of
words in a given context, the subtexts given by editorial line,
and how different media communicate with their audiences
(Krippendorff, 2004). “Accordingly, qualitative content analy-
sis relies heavily on researcher ‘readings’ and interpretation of
media texts. This intensive and time-consuming focus is one of
the reasons that much qualitative content analysis has involved
small samples of media content and been criticized by some
researchers as unscientific and unreliable” (Macnamara, 2005).
While qualitative analysis does rely on the interpretation of
the researcher, for the analysis to be valid the researcher in
question must be a trained professional to minimize the risk of
misreading. The finality of media content analysis is to output
data that is objective, susceptible to measuring and verification,
that can be explained qualitatively and quantitatively, and sus-
ceptible to generalization to facilitate an objective view of the
The quantitative treatment of symbolic materials requires a
clear specification of the measuring unit. In the present research,
the quantitative analysis referred to the number of mentions
(incidences) of China in an article per media per tone (positive,
There’s a first step in sampling, which constitutes gathering
the complete corpus of media to be analysed. This universe of
articles was the same for both quantitative and qualitative
analyses. “Sampling for media content analysis comprises three
steps (Newbold, 2002):
1) Selection of media forms (i.e. newspapers, magazines, ra-
dio, TV, film) and genre (news, current affairs, drama, soap
opera, documentary, and so on);
2) Selection of issues or dates (the period);
3) Sampling of relevant content from within those media”
The media form in the present research is online news. The
dates range from September 2009 to December 2012. The top-
ics considered for the content analysis were: China and climate
change and/or COP15, COP16, COP17, COP18 and/or
Even after setting aside from the universe of online articles
from 2009 to 2012 the ones that are relevant for this research,
the corpus is too extensive. Selecting all units that contain the
key topics (a census) would provide the greatest possible rep-
resentation of the sampling frame. Yet, as it was not feasible
due to budget and time constraints, a sample of media within
this universe was selected as follows:
Purposive such as selecting all articles from key media (and
not from less important media). In this case, the media ana-
lysed was BBC, CNN, The Guardian, The New York Times,
The Washington Post, Reuters, Al Jazeera and AFP;
Quota such as selecting a proportion of articles from each
of several regions or areas (geographic, demographic, psy-
chographic, or subject category). Same media as above ap-
plies, given that agencies such as Reuters and AFP cover
most regions and feed most widespread media;
Stratified composite samples constructed by randomly se-
lecting units for analysis (articles or ads) from certain days
or weeks over a period. Within the same media as above,
the units selected were randomly selected close to the dates
of international negotiations (Macnamara, 2005).
Based on the limited data available, it appears that public
concern has been growing since 2009 about China’s role in
climate change negotiations (Howes, 2009). It’s clear that
China is regarded as a key negotiator, a force that can either
stall or push forward binding agreements. Its increasing eco-
nomic power has played an important role at putting China in
the centre of every international negotiation. Climate change
illustrates how the geopolitical zones are currently divided.
Without denying the importance of the EU block, or India and
Brazil, China and the US hold hostage the centre of the stage
(Minas, 2010). UNFCCC negotiations haven’t had substantial
outcomes due to the fact that these two countries have been
unable and unwilling to compromise.
Either of them can represent a tipping point in the history of
humanity, for better or for worse. Due to this fact, the press and
the public opinion have their eyes set on China. The lack of
concrete publicized results has earned China a bad name in
As seen in the findings of the present research, the climate of
opinion is unfavourable to China. The preponderant worldview
of China is negative. But it’s not exclusively tied to China’s
climate change policies and the country’s performance during
the negotiations (Kriss, Loewenstein, Wang, & Weber, 2011).
The animosity spreads beyond. Lack of transparency, corrup-
tion, growing military power, advantageous commercial activi-
ties and human rights issues also preoccupy the public, and
affect the country’s brand and the people’s perceptions.
A poll conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA in 2011 revealed that
China becoming more powerful economically was perceived as
a bad thing according to a number of China’s key trading part-
ners—and especially in G7 countries (Ruppel, Grimm & Van
Wyk, 2011). This can be a strong reason behind the apparent
international animosity. China has affected very solid markets
—such as the EU, US, Brazil, Mexico—and has received anti-
dumping levies, due to what is perceived as unfair trade prac-
tices (BBC, 2011).
That’s the image that people have in their minds about China:
the giant, the superpower, the fastest growing economy, de-
vouring local economies with its cheaper products, being the
cause of unemployment and crisis. Even if this isn’t accurate,
the sentiment remains (AFP, 2010, 2012).
The findings of the present research showed that as the fast-
est growing economy in the world and the biggest polluter,
everyone expects a lot of China. When China has failed to meet
international expectations, its image has suffered the blow in
the proportions of its size and its intrinsic importance in today’s
politics. Despite the fact that China is putting forward the best
foot, outlining ambitious policies and making efforts to reduce
the rate of its emissions, to invest in cleaner energies and in
reforestation, the findings of the present research showed that
people and media expect more (Al Jazeera, 2012).
The results of the survey showed that the public has a
stereotyped image of China. In the public opinion survey that
was applied following the methodology and type of questions
of the Pew Research Center (Chandler, Schaeffer, & Zhou,
2002), 50.18% of the people surveyed disapproved of the way
China is handling its foreign policy, and 37.36% somewhat
disapproved of how China is handling climate change. 15.02%
thought that China should play the same role than developed
countries in climate change negotiations, while only 10.26%
thought China deserves the same treatment as developing na-
tions. Still, 53.11% thought that climate change is a major con-
cern for China, but 49.08% thought that China doesn’t consider
the well being of other countries’ interests when outlining for-
Open Access 163
eign policies. 41.39% of the surveyed thought that China is
obstructing climate change negotiations, against 20.88% who
thought China is being proactive at the negotiations.
A randomized sample of articles from 2009 to 2012 (see all
articles in the references section of this article) from the media
outlets defined in the methodology was analysed qualitatively
to determine the messages that during this period were pub-
lished regarding China in relation to climate change. As seen
also in the quantitative analysis, the results were preponderantly
negative or neutral, and in less extent, positive towards China.
During 2009 the media took a strong position against China due
to the Copenhagen incident with the US, and due to China’s too
overt refusal to a binding agreement (Freeman & Holslag,
2009). The absence of Chinese high representatives in Copen-
hagen’s Heads of State meeting was a hard blow on China’s
image. The international media took this incident as a sign of
contempt, as an attempt to boycott and stall the negotiations,
and as an open unwillingness to find a middle ground. The
2009 Copenhagen climate-change summit was covered exten-
sively in the media; each article overtly blaming China for what
environmentalists consider was a weak outcome.
In 2010, the coverage had a vastly neutral or positive tone,
and acknowledged China’s willingness to reduce emissions and
to even make these commitments binding. In the over enthused
atmosphere of COP16, what some media outlets failed to report
was that China never agreed on international MRV, and that the
binding quality of these commitments was only to be pursued
in domestic policies, not in an international agreement, which
would mean that an external body would enforce and keep track
of the reductions. China had declared in several occasions that
it would consider this to be a violation of its sovereignty.
In 2011, however, the coverage tone returned to the negative
side of the spectrum as China failed to prove the progress in the
reductions that it had promised before. China was also expected
to raise the ante, and when it remained conservative in the ne-
gotiations, the expectations weren’t met and the media scruti-
nized China’s numbers. The fact that China’s reporting was
suspected to be tainted added to the distrust and enhanced the
question “Is China doing what it promised”?
By 2012, the coverage had returned to focus on China’s reti-
cence to commit to binding agreements, and despite claims that
the country was moving towards a more energy efficient path,
the media found the loopholes in the speech, expecting China—
with its considerable size and developing status—to have
achievements to show to the world, and disappointed at China’s
declarations (see all media articles in the reference section of
the present article).
China was constantly portrayed as the one obstacle for the
US to be forced to commit to a binding agreement. The CBDR
speech that China keeps repeating negotiation after negotiation
has been vastly criticized as a defensive and unfair stance.
China’s commitments to introduce domestic legally binding
emission reductions weren’t considered ambitious enough,
given that the country became the largest polluter, it’s one of
the fastest growing economies of the world, and receives the
same treatment in negotiations as other developing countries
the size of Tuvalu.
Overall, the quantitative analysis shows that China appears
constantly framed in a negative scenario. The communication
from China to the world failed to manage expectations. China
lacked charismatic leaders when it needed them the most.
China’s reputation suffered a hard blow after the Copenhagen
incident. There was no visible crisis management, which kept
the matter from being closed. The Copenhagen incident was
mentioned in articles of 2010 to 2012, portraying China as a
conflictive, dismissive, disrespectful country, unwilling to ne-
All articles that mention China frame the country as:
The biggest polluter in the world,
The fastest growing economy,
A key negotiator, and
Unwilling to sign binding agreements.
In the media content analysis, China’s discourse has been
simplified into a refusal to join a binding agreement. This re-
fusal has been associated with the US refusal to do so as well,
and this situation ultimately renders the negotiations completely
futile, given that the two most polluting countries in the world
cannot reach an understanding. The subtleties of the Chinese
discourse are lost in the media, and aren’t understood by the
general public (This doesn’t prevent the public opinion from
existing and from having a weight on the negotiating parties.
Governments and their representatives are well aware that suc-
cessfully mitigating or adapting to global warming will require
changes in the behaviour of billions of human beings, and will
require that all citizens comply with new laws and regulations.
Some countries will be able to impose said regulations, but
some others like the US cannot do so without public approval.
Regarding the in depth interviews, Dr Milton Reyes said that
the roots of China’s image might have been planted long time
ago and haven’t been adequately addressed. Despite China’s
efforts to rebrand the country—the Beijing Olympics, Expo
2010 (Goodson, 2012)—there’s still a latent fear of China.
China’s commercial and economic hegemony represents a
threat to other developing countries that cannot compete with
China’s productive power, or to more developed countries that
are in debt with China. China holds a position of power in the
internation al arena.
As Dr. Zhang Jianyu accurately observes, China’s climate
change efforts are being overlooked by international public
opinion. But the reason lies in China’s current discourse, where
climate change and the environment are always downplayed by
the right to develop. As Dr Milton Reyes said, China’s primor-
dial objective is economic growth. Even if domestically China
is framing these development and growth as a sustainable,
greener growth, the international discourse has kept the right to
pollute due to historical responsibility as one of the key argu-
ments of Chinese negotiators. There is no way to frame this
argument in a positive way: as the surveys and the content
analysis show, CBDR arguments have caused a bad impression,
possibly due to the repetitiveness of the discourse (Song &
It can be seen in the quantitative media analysis how the
CBDR argument isn’t broadly portrayed as negative in 2009,
but the negative mentions of China quoting CBDR grow
throughout the years, to the point that in 2012 is the topic that
has the highest number of negative mentions in media. It’s a
valid argument that turned against China due to overuse.
Conclusions and Recommendations
In conclusion, based on the quantitative analysis, the survey,
the content analysis and the interviews, China is perceived as to
be pursuing exclusively national interests, without honouring
the alliance that it has—according to China—with other devel-
oping countries. China has declared that it’s looking after the
interests of all developing countries by pushing more developed
economies to do more aggressive commitments. Yet, LDCs and
AOSIS have pointed fingers at China, denying that China is
looking after the smaller members of the developing world.
This is a perception also reflected in the findings of the present
China ends up isolated by both sides of the equation: devel-
oped countries that judge China by its size, its current contribu-
tions and its massive GDP, deny China’s developing country
status and are demanding more from it, branding China as a
stalling element of the negotiations. Developing countries also
reject China, expressing that the economic giant should do
more, and that the CBDR speech should hardly apply to China
-vis-à-vis LDCs, for example.
Developed countries are constantly lobbying—and criticising
—China for more aggressive actions and to allow external veri-
fication of the current emission cuts (Motaal, 2010). However,
as expert Paul Harris says, “these kinds of demands run up
against China’s profound sense of grievance generally vis-à-vis
the outside world, and more specifically are counter to its belief
that the developed countries are to blame for climate change”
According to China’s 12th Five Year Plan, the new path for
the country is marked by its commitment to achieve growth
through low carbon development, with a strong focus on ad-
dressing climate change and energy challenges (Chan & King,
2011). The results of this study show that the intentions and
actions of the Chinese government aren’t being perceived as
positive or true by public opinion.
Returning to the questions posed at the beginning of this
study, it is possible to state that despite the fact that China has
made international announcements of its new sustainable ap-
proach, the international climate of opinion isn’t favourable for
China at the time being. It can be concluded that the present
international climate of opinion does not reflect accurately
China’s climate change efforts.
One of the more significant findings to emerge from this
study is that uninformed public, specialized interviewees and
the press broadly coincide in the general perception of China’s
climate change actions, and that this perception is broadly
Domestic factors like public opinion constrain foreign policy
and international relations. In international negotiations deci-
sion-makers strive to reconcile the domestic and international
imperatives simultaneously (Leiserowitz, 2007). This is evident
during UNFCCC negotiations, where Chinese negotiators hold
the economic growth before emission reductions discourse
(Lewis, 2007). At the national level, public opinion pressure
leaders to embrace policies they favour. In this case, Chinese
public wouldn’t welcome measures that could harm economic
growth. At the international level, governments seek to maxi-
mize their degrees of freedom (or preservation of sovereignty)
to comply with domestic pressures while at the same time co-
operating with other countries and preserve strategic alliances.
The relevance of international public opinion is clearly sup-
ported by the current findings. As seen throughout the findings
of the research, it’s consistent that the actions of Chinese dip-
lomats at COP15 in 2009 turned public opinion against China,
and gave pressure groups motive to mistrust China’s further
proposals. Advisory groups, senates, voters, civil society con-
stitute, create and act accordingly to public opinion.
The results of this research support the idea that China is
seen as uncooperative and reticent. Public opinion has branded
China as the biggest polluter in the world, that isn’t willing to
do what is perceived as its fair share to address climate change.
The proposed emission cuts that China has put forward are seen
as too little compared to the current contributions that are the
collateral of the country’s unparalleled eco nomi c g rowt h.
The empirical findings in this study provide a new under-
standing of one specific part of the overall image that the world
has about China. Whilst this study did not confirm unequivo-
cally that international public opinion directly determines the
outcomes of international negotiations and foreign policy, it did
partially substantiate the concept that there’s a correlation be-
tween China’s public declarations and actions, the negotiators
declarations to the press, press coverage in general, the attitude
of experts towards China, and the attitudes and perceptions of
uninformed public towards China. It is suggested that the asso-
ciation of these factors is investigated in future studies.
Finally, a number of important limitations need to be consid-
ered. First, the budget constraints made it impossible to reach a
broader public through direct polls, interviews, or to use the
services of a professional poll and survey service. It was also
impossible to hold focus groups since there was no budget for
travel. Second, also due to budget constraints, not all media
could be accessed for analysis, given that some charge a fee to
use their websites. Third, like in all perception and public
opinion studies, there is room for interpretation and discussion
of the results. In the consulted literature, evidence suggests that
the impact of public opinion in foreign policy varies from case
With a small sample size, caution must be applied, as the
findings might not be transferable to specific non-English
speaking countries that weren’t considered for the polls and
interviews, as clarified in the methodology. Some countries
might have a strong positive perception of China’s climate
change foreign policies. Yet, the effect in the overall negotia-
tions is negligible, given that the biggest actors (US, UK, EU)
were considered, polled, interviewed and analysed.
The main weakness of this study was the paucity of country
branding and perception analysis literature. To develop strong
country rebranding recommendations for a case as complex as
China, more research is needed. Future research should there-
fore concentrate on the investigation of current Chinese inter-
national public image strategies, and compared to the results of
the present study to unveil the success or failure of said strate-
gies. It would be interesting to assess the effects of Chinese
national opinion on China’s foreign policies, and on China’s
design of current climate change policies.
Considerably more work will need to be done to determine
what if anything can be done to unlock the current climate
change negotiations, but as all policy-making processes, public
opinion should be an element to be considered.
The findings of this study have a number of important im-
plications for future practice. China undoubtedly requires a
country rebranding strategy. Country branding essentially helps
a nation to further the country’s influence in the international
arena and to further the nation’s economic growth by focusing
on the nation’s identity and brand image. Nation branding is
complex, and the public policy of a nation is significant to the
Open Access 165
country’s image. The nation’s image becomes the reputation of
The current research presents solid data as to which areas
China has to tackle, but by no means intends to be a complete
evaluation of China’s national brand. As shown by this research,
China has a bad reputation when it comes to climate change,
despite its public policies. China has a bad reputation primarily
The Copenhagen incident,
The reticence to allow MRV,
Refusing binding agreements,
Becoming the biggest CO2 emitter,
CBDR discourse, and
Lack of support to LDCs and AOSIS.
A country rebranding will need to address these topics. Some
are impossible to resolve, such as the COP15 incident and be-
coming the largest polluter in the world. The biggest act on
China’s part to be able to rebrand itself as sustainable and
committed would be to allow MRV. Even if China continued to
refuse adhering to binding agreements, external verification
would proof the extent of China’s NAMAs. China’s reticence
to allow international inspectors to monitor its internal actions
doesn’t have solid foundations. China’s Vice Minister declared,
“There are no problems for transparency. But there will be no
MRV internationally because it’s a matter of principle” (Hsu &
Kieran, 2009). In this aspect, the recommendation is that China
has to be more assertive and step aside from the Bali Action
Plan. China must align with developed countries when it comes
to MRV, but must ask for clarification as to which institution
will perform said verification.
Another strategy would be the proliferation of Chinese
NGO’s that could lobby on behalf of China. This research
shows that NGO’s like Oxfam have been more positive regard-
ing China’s declarations during UNFCCC negotiations, but the
lack of Chinese NGOs have made their repercussions almost
negligible to international press. World Wildlife Fund has a
strong presence in China and is highly active in low carbon
development, and its international origin makes it an efficient
vehicle for China’s messages if delivered assertively and with
verifiable data. WWF’s reputation makes it the most reliable in
climate change and one of the biggest lobbying groups at
UNFCCC negotiations. China will profit vastly from getting
WWF on board of its national verification processes. National
public opinion, orchestrated around NGO’s activities, can con-
vey China’s message in a more convincing way than through
China has been supporting African countries in sustainability
and development projects, but has failed to defend LDCs and
AOSIS when it has mattered, at the time of the negotiations.
The first thing China needs to incorporate in its official goals
and discourse is a pledge to 350 ppm as well as a maximum of
2 degrees Celsius. China’s aid to Africa has been primarily
economic. As Nick Nutall from UNEP said in an interview to
Xinhua news, “The decision (of China) to support 100 projects
can assist Africa in economic development and diversification
in terms of sectors and wider-employment prospects while as-
sisting towards a more sustainable path. So in terms of fighting
poverty, accelerating development and combating climate
change, China’s announcement to assist Africa is welcome
news” (Song & Zhao, 2011). This is, though, not enough. Since
these projects are framed as economic development projects,
rather than purely devoted to climate change, they are not seen
as altruistic as expected. China is not only expected to put for-
ward financing and technology transfer for these countries, but
also to be their voice during UNFCCC negotiations. As a de-
veloping country, China is perceived to have abandoned weaker
economies in its pursuit of selfish goals.
Finally, China would profit from stepping away the CBDR
discourse and assuming its responsibility as the fastest-growing
economy in the world. China should openly declare that CBDR
is to be applied to smaller economies and less polluting coun-
tries, and as an act of good will, and going beyond and above
what developing countries are bound to do, China will commit
to binding agreements. Historical emissions are part of the past.
Now, China is the biggest polluter in the world. Finger pointing
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