Socialization from Below - the Role of Myanmar Civil Society in China's Adoption of the Public Participation Norm

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Diane Tang


China engages with international development primarily through infrastructure investments. Such projects are prone to inducing negative effects: they could further entrench the existing power asymmetries within the community, exacerbate conflicts, or impoverish certain populations. Engagement with the public, especially non-state actors, is an indispensable way to minimize these negative effects, and is a key element in international environmental governance policies and corporate social responsibilities (CSR) programs. Chinese government and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have engaged exclusively with the Myanmar state up until recently, although because of local resistance in Myanmar, China has been pressured to engage with non-state actors as well. This represents a remarkable shift in China's foreign investment approach. This thesis therefore asks a central research question: what is the role of Myanmar NGO activists in the socialization process whereby China adopts public participation norm in project decision-making?The theoretical framework draws from socialization theory (Johnston, 2008; Kent, 2007; Risse et al, 1999) to analyze the extent to which China adopts the public participation norm. It posits that international organizations, the main actor in orthodox socialization theory, have only socialized China to a shallow level of ratifying international treaties, as well as enacting policy and guidelines with respect to public participation. It is the civil society in Myanmar that pressures Chinese interlocutors to engage in argumentative action (Risse, 2000) towards policy enforcement, thereby catalyzing the socialization towards a deeper level. Through empirical analysis of this truth-seeking argumentation, this thesis examines the interactions between the Chinese state/SOEs and Myanmar civil society.Local civil society - a subordinate group, is rarely examined as an agent of socialization. Constructivism is often limited by its narrow focus on the international institutions as the major ideational mechanisms that reflect the interest of their most influential members or those with the most material resources. As for local civil society's advocacy and protest that form argumentative action (which drives socialization), instead of a conscious effort to socialize a state into accepting certain international norms, they are simultaneously a form of a resistance against hegemony and domination. Drawing from notions of subordinate resistance and hegemony (Scott, 1985) to complement the institution-centricity underpinning most socialization theories, this thesis aims to explore the agency and limits of Myanmar civil society in the socialization process whereby China adopts the public participation norm. In doing so, this thesis also captures the shift in China's development practice. Contrasting with views that China is inflexible and ruthlessly uses its economic power, it shows that China is engaged in a responsive form of intervention that involves a meaningful level of negotiation with other non-state actors. Faced with grassroots movements' normative power, Chinese companies have been pressured to engage with public communities as well, revising its conventional practice of inter-elite brokerage. The Chinese state and its investors have embraced public engagement in Myanmar - albeit selectively with certain elite civil society organizations, and geared up CSR programs, engaging with the local communities affected by the Letpadaung copper mining project. However, field research at this project site shows that citizen empowerment, the defining essence of public participation, is absent from these efforts. This is because it is at odds with China's traditional elite-centred governance structure, communist ideology of mass participation, and prevailing priority of social stability/business risk containment. These domestic characteristics countervail external norm socialization forces and will likely continue to define China's public engagement approach in its overseas investments.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2016