Environmental Foreign Policy as a Soft Power Instrument: Cases of China and India

  • Published : 2018.06.30


Joseph S. Nye defined soft power as the power of attraction to affect the behavior of other states through the use of non-coercive instruments including culture, political values and foreign policy. Over the last two decades, environmental issues have grown in importance on the international agenda and become critical components of states' foreign policy-making. This paper aims to analyze environmental foreign policy as a soft power instrument focusing on two major rising powers: China and India. Traditionally, China and India had been reluctant to make any commitments in the field. However, they have shown greater willingness to act in global environmental governance in the past decade. They started playing more active roles in global climate change negotiations and supported a number of initiatives. Their current rise in global environmental governance has even been praised by the international community as the Paris agreement case demonstrated. This study evaluates China's and India's recent efforts in global environmental governance with a focus on climate change negotiations linking their constructive position to their soft power potential. It is argued that environmental issues are used by these two states as foreign policy strategy to gain more influence in international politics. This study finds out that China's climate-related environmental diplomacy has been more ambitious than that of India and thus has been closer to fulfill its potential as a soft power asset.


  1. Kashwan, Prakash. 2015. "Forest Policy, Institutions, and REDD+ in India, Tanzania, and Mexico." Global Environmental Politics 15(3): 95-117.
  2. Li, Lina. 2016. "Soft Power for Solar Power: Germany's New Climate Foreign Policy." Germanwatch. Accessed 20 May 2018:, 1-51.
  3. Liu, Lei, Pu Wang and Tong Wu. 2017. "The role of nongovernmental organizations in China's climate change governance." Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 8(6): 1-16.
  4. Lu, Yiyi. August 2005. "Environmental Civil Society and Governance in China." Chatham House Asia Programme Briefing Paper. Accessed 22 April 2018:, 1-8.
  5. McBeath, Jerry and Bo Wang. 2008. "China's Environmental Diplomacy." American Journal of Chinese Studies 15(1): 1-16.
  6. Melik, James. 2011. "China leads world in green energy investment." BBC News. Accessed 15 May 2018:
  7. Michaelowa, Katharina and Axel Michaelowa. 2012. "India as an emerging power in international climate negotiations." Climate Policy 12(5): 575-590.
  8. Mohan, Aniruddh. 2017. "From Rio to Paris: India in Global Climate Politics." Rising Powers Quarterly 2(3): 39-61.
  9. Nye, Joseph S. 1990. "Soft Power." Foreign Policy 80: 153-171.
  10. Nye, Joseph S. and Wang Jisi. Summer 2009. "Hard Decisions on Soft Power: Opportunities and Difficulties for Chinese Power." Harvard International Review: 18-22.
  11. Nye, Joseph S. 2011. "Power and foreign policy." Journal of Political Power 4(1): 9-24.
  12. Qi, Ye and Tong Wu. 2013. "The politics of climate change in China." Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 4(4): 301-313.
  13. Rastogi, Namrata Patodia. 2011. "Winds of Change: India's Emerging Climate Strategy." The International Spectator 46(2): 127-141.
  14. Rauchfleisch, Adrian. 2017. "Climate change and China's window of opportunity to gain soft power." Zurich Institute of Public Affairs Research. Accessed 20 May 2018:
  15. Smith, Oliver. 22 April 2017. "Mapped: The world's most eco-friendly countries - where does the UK rank?" The Telegraph. Accessed 23 April 2018:
  16. Stalley, Phillip. 2013. "Principled Strategy: The Role of Equity Norms in China's Climate Change Diplomacy." Global Environmental Politics 13(1): 1-8.
  17. Stokes, Leah C., Amanda Giang, and Noelle E. Selin. 2016. "Splitting the South: China and India's Divergence in International Environmental Negotiations." GlobalEnvironmental Politics 16(4): 12-31.
  18. Sun, Yixian. 2016. "The Changing Role of China in Global Environmental Governance." Rising Powers Quarterly 1(1): 43-53.
  19. Thaker, Jagadish and Anthony Leiserowitz. 2014. "Shifting discourses of climate change in India." Climatic Change 123(2): 107-119.
  20. The Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC. 2007. "Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability." Accessed 10 January 2018:, 1-976.
  21. The Soft Power 30: A Global Ranking of Soft Power. 2017. Portland Communications. Accessed 23 January 2018:, 1-147.
  22. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 1992. Accessed 12 January 2018:
  23. UN Climate Change Newsroom. 30 June 2015. "China Submits its Climate Action Plan Ahead of 2015 Paris Agreement." Accessed 23 January 2018:
  24. World Bank. 2016. "GDP per capita for all countries and economies." Accessed 05 January 2018:
  25. "Xi Jinping heralds 'new era' of Chinese power at Communist party congress." 18 October 2017. The Guardian. Accessed 14 January 2018: world/2017/oct/18/xi-jinping-speech-new-era-chinese-power-party-congress
  26. Vice, Margaret. August 23, 2017. "In global popularity contest, U.S. and China - not Russia-vie for first."Pew Research Center. Accessed 20 April 2018:
  27. Vihma, Antto. 2011. "India and the Global Climate Governance Between Principles and Pragmatism." The Journal of Environment & Development 20(1): 69-94.
  28. Zhang, Bo, Cong Cao, Junzhan Gu and Ting Liu. 2016. "A New Environmental Protection Law, Many Old Problems? Challenges to Environmental Governance in China." Journal of Environmental Law, 28(2): 325-335.
  29. Zhang, ZhongXiang. 2017. "Are China's climate commitments in a post-Paris agreement sufficiently ambitious?" Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 8(2): 1-10.
  30. Wyligala, Helena. 8-12 July 2012. "Environmental Foreign Policy as an Element of Soft Power Strategy: the German Example." Paper presented at the IPSA XXIInd World Congress of Political Science, Madrid. Accessed 18 May 2018:, 1-13.
  31. Frangoul, Anmar. April 2018. "China becomes a 'driving power' for solar energy with $86.5billion invested last year." CNBC. Accessed 15 May 2018:
  32. Ganguly, Sumit and Manjeet S. Pardesi. 2009. "Explaining Sixty Years of India's Foreign Policy." India Review, 8(1): 4-19.
  33. Gill, Gitanjali Nain. 2010. "A Green Tribunal for India." Journal of Environmental Law 22(3): 461-474.
  34. Government of India. 2008. "National Action Plan on Climate Change." Accessed 07 January 2018:
  35. Government of India. December 2015. "First Biennial Update Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change." Accessed 03 January 2018:
  36. Hall, Ian. 2016. "Multialignment and Indian Foreign Policy under Narendra Modi." The Round Table 105 (3): 271-286.
  37. Hallding , Karl, Marie Jurisoo , Marcus Carson and Aaron Atteridge. 2013. "Rising powers: the evolving role of BASIC countries." Climate Policy 13(5): 608-631.
  38. Hilton, Isabel. 14 April 2013. "The Environment in China and the Return of Civil Society." The China Story. Accessed 23 April 2018:
  39. "Hu Jintao's Speech on Climate Change." 2009. New York Times. Accessed 10 January 2018:
  40. Benedick, Richard Elliot. 1986. "The Environment on the Foreign Policy Agenda." Ecology Law Quarterly 13(2): 171-179.
  41. Broadhurst, Arlene I. and Grant Ledgerwood. 1998. "Environmental Diplomacy of States, Corporations and Non-Governmental Organizations: The Worldwide Web of Influence." International Relations 14(2): 1-19.
  42. Buckley, Tim and Simon Nicholas. January 2017. "China's Global Renewable Energy Expansion." Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). Accessed 16 May 2018:, 1-45.
  43. Chen, Gang. 2009. "China's Climate Diplomacy and Its Soft Power." In Soft Power: China's Emerging Strategy in International Politics, edited by Li, Mingjiang, 225-244. Lanham: Lexington Books.
  44. "China and the environment: the East is grey." 10 August 2013. The Economist. Accessed 10 January 2018:
  45. China's Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). 30 June 2015. Accessed 23 January 2018:'s%20INDC%20-%20on%2030%20June%202015.pdf, pp.1-36.
  46. "China's National Climate Change Program". June 2007. Permanent Mission of the People's Republic of China to the UN. Accessed 11 January 2018:
  47. "Chinese premier, UN chief discuss climate change." 30 December 2009. China Daily. Accessed 18 January 2018:
  48. "Climate talks: 'wrong to blame India for deadlock'." September 23, 2009. The Hindu. Accessed 02 January 2018:
  49. Dimitrov, Radoslav S. 2010. "Inside UN Climate Change Negotiations: The Copenhagen Conference." Review of Policy Research 27(6): 795-821.
  50. Dubash, Navroz K. 2013. "The politics of climate change in India: narratives of equity and cobenefits." Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 4(3): 191- 201.
  51. Humphrey, John and Dirk Messner. 2006. "China and India as Emerging Global Governance Actors: Challenges for Developing and Developed Countries." Institute of Development Studies Bulletin 37(1): 107-114.
  52. Hurrell, Andrew and Sandeep Sengupta. 2012. "Emerging powers, North-South relations and global climate politics." International Affairs 88(3): 463-484.
  53. "India ready for global scrutiny on emissions." 2009. The Times of India. Accessed 02 January 2018:
  54. India's Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). 2015. Accessed 22 January 2018:
  55. "In Modi's Davos speech, climate change a big focus, PM says we're exploiting nature for greed." 2018. India Today. Accessed 25 January 2018:
  56. Jaffe, Amy Myers. March/April 2018. "Green Giant: Renewable Energy and Chinese Power." Foreign Affairs: 83-93.
  57. Joshi, Shangrila. 2013. "Understanding India's Representation of North-South Climate Politics." Global Environmental Politics 13(2): 128-147.