China's Environmental Security Challenge: Policy Options in an Environmental Crisis
Cassidy, Kristen Wei-fan
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China’s economic reforms over the last three decades have been monumentally successful, so much so that China now directly challenges the unipolar structure of the current international system. China’s ascent into “superpowerdom,” while remarkable has generated severe environmental consequences that pose some of the most serious security threats to China, the Asia-Pacific region, and the globe. China now faces three major environmental crises that threaten its domestic stability and international security – foreign energy dependence, water scarcity, and air pollution and climate change. China’s policy response to these issues could potentially inflame historical geopolitical rivalries and disrupt global economic stability. Given the security implications of how China will continue its “peaceful rise,” this thesis explores China’s foreign policy options and attempts to predict how China will behave in response to each environmental challenge. This thesis, using a hybrid of qualitative and quantitative methodologies, tests existing hypotheses found in environmental security literature to determine whether China will pursue peaceful, disruptive, or violent outcomes to resolve each environmental crisis. The first chapter of this thesis looks at China’s dependence on foreign energy sources, a significant vulnerability that undermines China’s international leverage and foreign policy objectives and presents opportunities for violent conflict between China and its energy competitors. This chapter finds that rather than achieving energy security by militarily engaging energy competitors or supply manipulators, China is more likely to pursue bilateral defense alliances with countries that serve as its primary energy source. The second chapter of this thesis examines China’s water scarcity crisis, which is projected to become one of the most destabilizing events of the 21st century for human and food security. This chapter optimistically finds that China will not engage in a violent inter-state “water war,” but will pursue cooperation and diplomatic resolutions to resolve existing water tensions. Finally, the third chapter of this thesis explores China’s air pollution and climate change crisis, which threatens China’s economic growth and by extension, global economic stability. This chapter finds that China can successfully fight its “war on pollution” and maintain high levels of economic growth by employing strategic economic incentives and “positive restrictions” rather than establishing barriers to foreign direct investment. The conclusions of this thesis are important contributions to the literature on environmental security and provide strategic opportunities for United States policymakers to engage and influence China’s foreign policy decision-making process on the environment and international security.