Transboundary Air Pollution in Northeast Asia: The Political Economy of Yellow Dust, Particulate Matter, and PM2.5


This paper details the nature of transboundary air pollution in Northeast Asia, employing an analytical approach rooted in the political economy of the region. To measure public perceptions of the air pollution problem, it is shown that the Korean media largely frame transboundary air pollution in the region as a problem emanating from China. While it is true that the pollution originates in China and is carried eastward on the trade winds, China is not the sole contributor to this problem. Rather, Korean investments in China and the subsequent exports of goods from firms in China all play a role. The impacts can be quite severe and long lasting for individuals prone to respiratory problems. The economic costs are thus framed largely in terms of health costs in Korea, providing strong incentives for policy makers to effect change. Using correlation analysis, it is shown that China’s pollution levels are positively associated with both Korean FDI flows to China and Korean respiratory deaths. The path forward must of course account for continued FDI flows from Korea to China, but it must also include greater levels of coordination between Korea and China on the issue of transboundary air pollution. Several existing institutions provide a solid foundation, but the curation and sharing of China-based emissions data with the Korean government will facilitate the tracking of high-polluting Korea-invested enterprises in China. In terms of preventative measures, Korea and China must coordinate on the development of technologies related to the reduction of air pollution.


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