Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Obstacles to enforcement of environmental law in China

Beijing University's Chinalawinfo site recently posted an interesting article on the various ways polluting enterprises obtain protection from enforcement of environmental law. The article focused on the industrial parks established by local governments. It seems that in order to attract investors, local government typically make promises such as that environmental protection agencies shall be allowed to inspect only once a year and may not enter the park at all without permission of the park administration, or that enterprises with investment above a certain floor shall be exempted from all administrative fees. One industrial park promised a "two no-contact" policy: enterprises would have no contact with local people who had lost their land to the enterprise and would have no contact with various functional agencies in acquiring necessary permits to operate; all would be handled by the park administration. In many cases the head of the park administration is a county leader; as such, he/she outranks the head of the local environmental protection agency (who has a ke ranking) and may therefore ignore it.

This article points up a feature of the Chinese political-legal system that, interestingly, has persisted virtually unchanged for decades despite the seismic changes occurring elsewhere in the system: the distribution of state authority according to a principle of rank. In other words, in asking whether A has the power to order B to do something, one could ask, "What is A's lawful sphere of jurisdiction?" or one could ask, "What is the rank of A (or A's agency) relative to B?" It's not that the first question is meaningless or never asked; it's just that the second question is an extremely important one, and we can't understand how China works - at least most of the time - without asking it.

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