The rise of Green China? A multi-level perspective study of Sino-Global south energy relations

  • Ryan McLean

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The thesis aims to examine the ways in which Chinese energy actors have come to influence the processes of socio-technical transition in the Global South. The underlying motivation is to develop a greater understanding of the domestic—international nexus resulting from the so-called Chinese renewables ‘revolution’. This study will utilise a multi-level perspective (MLP) theoretical framework in order to uncover to what extent Chinese energy policies and the country’s low-carbon industries have shaped power sector modernisation in developing economies during the past decade. The MLP has been selected to firstly assist in investigating the interplay between landscape level contexts, such as energy insecurity and environmental degradation, which have brought pressure upon the existing Chinese socio-technical regime, and how this has influenced the country’s regime actors by facilitating ‘new entrants’ and green niche diffusion within the Chinese energy system. In addition, this approach has been utilised to then explore in much greater detail the ways in which the alignment of these scales in turn may correlate with solar and wind power adaptation — specifically within emerging energy markets.

Overall, MLP scholars still maintain a Eurocentric focus towards developed regions and Western sectors — in comparison to Global South settings — and the role played by external actors upon sustainable transitions has received less attention than it should. As a result, and through the use of this single case study framework, a central aim is to therefore generate a deeper and nuanced appreciation of how (and why) China is currently in a position to facilitate and/or hinder other national level socio-technical transitions. The central argument advanced by this study is that if you want to understand many of the non-linear dynamics of the global energy transition endeavour, you must first appreciate the domestic Chinese energy policy context. Secondly, the powerful forces which shape China’s own energy transition, are now intrinsically linked to power sector modernisation efforts elsewhere, whether it be in the areas of solar PV trade, wind power construction, or the small but growing role of clean energy financing. In conjunction with investigating emerging Chinese ‘green’ relations with others, the prevailing influence of incumbent energy actors, coal-power vested interests, and regime stabilisation vis-à-vis transition efforts both domestically and overseas — is likewise a focus within this thesis.

The significance of this study is that it not only maps out how socio-technical changes have occurred within the Chinese energy system and the specific exogenous outworkings of this, but it will also show why the interplay between the Chinese regime and niche-level actors has guided Beijing’s renewables leadership ambitions and the country’s ‘green’ soft power projection. Amidst the backdrop of China’s overall economic rise on the world stage and as a result of increased global efforts to deal with climate change, these ‘new’ energy dynamics will have considerable implications for Sino-Global South energy relations, the concept of South-South cooperation, and international relations — in our present multi-polar world system.

Thesis embargoed until 31 December 2027
Date of AwardJul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorSohyun Zoe Lee (Supervisor) & Stefan Andreasson (Supervisor)


  • China
  • Socio-technical transition
  • Multi-level perspective
  • Global South
  • Renewable energy
  • Geopolitics

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