The general role of the state has been warped and changed in numerous ways by different countries over an extended period of time. One fundamental aspect of the state is the element of control. This appears hugely dominant in sovereign states such as China. China has an infamous reputation for it’s harsh government control, as it plays its ‘catch up’ policies in order to advance both socially and economically in comparison to the rest of the world. But these sort of advances have played a huge role on the country’s sustainable development. If one refers back to the routes of China’s growth spurt, the reign of Chairman Mao springs to mind. It was his intense focus on industrialisation and collectivisation that shot China into action. Modern China reflects this time period in the forms of economic zones, mass production and consumption of raw materials, and social suppression throughout the country. In order to contrast this state, one may look towards the Capitalist approach of the U.S.A. With it’s focus on free society and opportunities of wealth and growth. These two countries are key in examining the state role in sustainable development.
In order to understand the role China has on it’s sustainable development in the present day, it is key to look back in time to the mid 1940s, when Chairman Mao began his influence on the country. Mao was fundamental in the foundation of China’s push to grow. He introduced a whole new line of thinking. The idea that anything could be achieved through struggle and hard work, and that if everyone contributed what they had to offer, the country’s goals could be achieved. Clearly inspired by the USSR, Mao began to collectivise farming in order to mass produce agricultural output. He created 5 year plans (which are still active today) in order to set huge production goals. This of course had extremely positive effects in terms of the country’s economy, improved lifestyle and rate of development. For a short while Mao only made positive contributions to China’s sustainable development. The country could support itself in the present and secure a future of better living standards and economic growth. Yet it was Mao’s discontent that shifted this sustainability to the next level. He began to push for more production, more labour, and a great deal of social suppression. ‘The revenue of the early modern state came mainly from the levies on commerce and land, the major sources of wealth.’ (Scott, 1998: 33) Mao could see the importance of focus on improving the agricultural output of land, as there was a surplus of it.Anyone in disagreement to government policies was now an enemy of the state. Utopian urgency created failures such as the “Great Leap Forward” in which everyone was encouraged to melt down their own steal, but this became more of set back than a progression. Dogmatic uniformity was the encouragement for everyone to grow their own grain, making the country totally self sufficient. But implications of land and climate made this impossible. Mao did succeed in allowing China to take the step forward to becoming a wealthier, more powerful nation. Yet his cruel and pressuring methods meant that he did not fulfil the full needs of sustainable development. Many worked themselves into a grave, along with a majority of the poorer peasants now forced to have live grim lifestyles for little reward, but it has been widely debated whether his methods were acceptable with such remarkable advancements. ‘As a result of 30 years of reform, today China has become a“world factory” giving a sense of pride to a nation which was once conceived as a developing country and now poses a challenge to the global economy.’ (Chan & Ngai, 2009: 287) The struggle and political repression created by Mao certainly gave birth to a time of fear and hardship for those at the time, but there is no doubt that it has had huge impacts on modern China’s sustainable development. He has allowed years of advancement in order to create a more self sufficient and powerful country that has consistent sustainability.
This brings us to look at China in the present day. Although now governed differently, there are echoes of Mao’s influence everywhere. The country still runs on its underlying catch up principles. Even with the huge amounts of advancement, the state is still constantly pushing for more in order to remain a competitor alongside the worlds leading powers. There is still a great deal of political repression. With state representatives being placed into local communities to keep a close eye on China’s citizens. This is held hand in hand with the controversial censorship of things such as the internet. Preventing the people from seeing the world from any other perspective. This of course links into China’s decentralisation of power. There are local conditions with local rules, meaning there is very little emphasis on environmental regulation. This has huge repercussions to the countries emissions. China churned a massive 327 million tones of coal in June alone, and with so few instances of any environmental regulation, there is no doubt they are having a hugely negative impact on their sustainable development. ‘In 1998, the EPB of Wujin (population 1.2 million) responded to 479 complaints, while heavily polluted small town of Digang (population 50,000) reported they did not receive a single complaint in 1998.’ (Mol, 2006: 47/48) Corruption of such statistics provided by state owned media is evident throughout the country. Many citizens health have been sacrificed for the country’s growth, with high levels of air pollution creating many lung related health issues. There has also been an attempt to somewhat ‘conquer nature’ with new mass projects such as The Three Gorges Dam. At a whopping 2km long and 2250 MW capacity it is the worlds longest dam, but in many ways its effects have been far more negative. It has displaced around 1.3 million people , along with its creation of much flooding of agriculturally valuable territory. In order to clean up the country, it is clear China would have to almost completely halt its focus on economic growth. So is that really sustainable development?
The Capitalist approach of the U.S.A is a prime example of a contrasting state to China. Although the two states have their similarities. They both hold economic growth as a key area of focus in their development. They also share the view that there are technological fixes to their environmental issues created by their growth. But they have very prominent differences that set them apart. The U.S has much less emphasis on state control in comparison to China’s Communist Party. The Capitalist approach allows for much greater opportunity for individual wealth, and the so called “American Dream” creates connotations of freedom, success and fortune. The U.S.A has also seen a huge continuous growth in both economic and social sense since the much needed Industrial revolution. But this has come at a price. North America may be listed as one of the great powers, but it also has its reputation as a great polluter due to its vast amount of consumed fossil fumes. A frightening view is one that depicts Capitalisms growth to have a constant need to speed its rate. ‘We “need” this ever-increasing consumption and waste production because, without growth, capitalist economies collapse and unemployment soars, as we’ve seen’ (Smith, 2011: 141) This arrises the point that if Capitalism must continue to pick up speed, is it inevitable that it will some day crash? This is very difficult to predict. In comparison to China, the U.S has much higher levels of living standards, with a far larger ratio of citizens living with running water, indoor toilets and access to healthcare. So similarly to China, the U.S.A has considerable consistency with its present Sustainable development, but taking environmental change and effects, the future may change this drastically. If the country continues to emit so many fossil fuels, it will eventually be forced to halt all economic focus to concentrate on tackling its environmental issues. So in effect, even though China and the U.S.A both have very different state approaches to their Sustainable development, they both share the same issues.
To conclude, it is clear that the state has a huge impact on sustainable development. Looking at China specifically, it is certain that the country’s sustainable development has changed dramatically in unison with its differing and developing governing over the past handful of decades. With comparison to China under Mao and the present day, there is a clear tie between the state leadership and sustainable development. In contrast, the U.S.A’s separate take on governing may be different, but equally linked to its sustainable development, and sharing many similar problems.