Strategic Narratives in China’s Climate Policy: Analysing Three Phases in China’s Discourse Coalition

Publication Date: 
24 July 2019
Publication Language: 
Appearing in: 
The Pacific Review

During the past decade, we have witnessed a transformation in the role played by China in international climate negotiations, which has provoked increasing academic and policy interest. While most of the current research focuses on normative or empirical analyses of policies, this article provides a comprehensive study of China’s climate strategic narratives on both the systematic and national levels. Theoretically, this article situates itself in the ‘narrative turn’ in international relations. We develop an analytical framework that combines theoretical insights stemming from the strategic narrative with our own identification of the unique features of China’s discourse context. We apply this to China’s climate strategic narratives by examining China’s climate ‘discourse coalition’, which consists of the government, the epistemic community, and the official media. In doing so, we add to the current research that mainly focuses on the mass media. Methodologically, we critically examine four different sources of China’s climate strategic narratives, ranging from leaders’ speeches to media reports. This data is triangulated with 21 semi-structured interviews. Overall, we identify three phases of China’s climate strategic narratives. On a system level, the strict division between developed and developing countries has been replaced by the narrative of ‘a community of a shared future of mankind’; while on the national level, China as the victim of ‘ecological imperialism’ has given way to the new ‘torchbearer’ narrative. This research also contributes to a broader understanding on China’s domestic politics and its position in global governance.

Climate negotiations, China, narrative turn, strategic narrative, discourse coalition