Digital environmental governance in China: Information disclosure, pollution control, and environmental activism in the Yellow River Delta

Jiaxin Tan
Independent Researcher; Guangzhou, China; jiaxintam@hotmail.com

Irit Eguavoen
Center for Development Research, University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany; eguavoen@uni-bonn.de

ABSTRACT: The Chinese water bureaucracy increasingly utilises information and communications technology (ICT) in order to strengthen interaction with the population, which is severely affected by industrial pollution. Government webpages, mailboxes, and online interviews with officers have become prevalent tools for environmental governance, including information disclosure, and a virtual communication forum between the state and its citizens. The present study employs a mixed methods approach with a qualitative emphasis to explore the process of communication and interaction between government agencies and local residents in Dongying, Shandong Province. The results show that information disclosure of pollution data remains far from being transparent, despite the fact that the local government has implemented digital environmental governance, as encouraged by the central Chinese state. Internet technologies empower resource-poor environmental activists in Dongying to strengthen their social network and build communication with the authorities. The application of bureaucratic techniques, however, is key for them to enter the communication interface with government agencies in order to influence political decisions. Results suggest that local cadres tend to send mixed signals to activists and display wariness towards them. They also tend to take preventive measures to keep the situation under control when environmental disputes arise. The proposed communication interface approach sheds a clearer light on the complexity among the emergent ICTs, environmental activism, and digital governance.

KEYWORDS: Water pollution, NGO, information disclosure, ICT, Yellow River Delta, China