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Cooperation with Chinese actors on anti-corruption: Environmental governance as a pilot area

Engagement with Chinese actors on anti-corruption is possible but depends on trust-building efforts and suitable windows of opportunity. Environmental governance is the field where the overlap between Chinese and Western interests appears highest and the potential for cooperation most encouraging. We suggest three pathways: trilateral development cooperation, promotion of integrity standards along transnational supply chains, and building on public mobilisation or environmental litigation in host countries of corruption-prone projects.

24 January 2022
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Main points

  • The opacity of China’s development finance system and the lack of binding standards create vast opportunities for bribery and embezzlement, which harm both host countries and Chinese lenders.
  • China’s legal framework to control corruption and environmental risks in Chinese projects overseas remains weak, but policy commitments and soft regulations have been stepped up.
  • We identified environmental governance as the field where the overlap between Chinese and Western interests appears highest, making this a promising area for Sino-Western cooperation.
  • Trilateral development cooperation offers a pathway for mutual learning and gradual raising of standards. Cooperation offers should build on an understanding of bottlenecks in the Chinese system and donors’ candid appraisal of their own leverage.
  • Promotion of integrity standards along transnational supply chains is a shared global responsibility. The European Union has significant leverage if it is willing to combine its market regulation power with dialogue and capacity-building mechanisms to raise governance standards.
  • Another strategy is to build on instances of public mobilisation or even environmental litigation in host countries of corruption-prone projects. Instead of using backlashes as supposed proof of Chinese failure, U4 partners can initiate dialogue with stakeholders to strengthen preventive governance mechanisms.

Cite this publication

Lang, B.; Rudyak, M.; (2022) Cooperation with Chinese actors on anti-corruption: Environmental governance as a pilot area. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2022:1)

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About the authors

Bertram Lang

Bertram Lang is a political scientist and academic coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Centre for East Asian Studies (IZO) at Goethe University Frankfurt. His expertise is in China’s foreign policy and its impact on international norms, with a focus on anti-corruption efforts, the non-profit sector, and EU-China relations. Building on his prior experience at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, Bertram has been working as a China strategy advisor for European policymakers, NGOs, and risk consultancies. Bertram has published both academic articles and policy analyses on China’s global anti-corruption and law enforcement agenda.

Marina Rudyak

Marina Rudyak is a postdoctoral researcher and assistant professor at Heidelberg University Institute of Chinese Studies, where her research focuses on China’s foreign aid and international development cooperation as well as on Chinese foreign policy discourse. She regularly consults for international governmental and non-profit organisations on issues related to China’s development cooperation policy. Previously she was a programme manager with the German International Cooperation Agency (GIZ) in Beijing. She studied Chinese studies and public law in Heidelberg and Shanghai and holds a PhD and master’s degree in Chinese studies from Heidelberg University.


All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


China, Eastern Asia, accountability, development cooperation, environmental governance, integrity building