Transboundary Pollution from China and Its Impact on South Korea: A Road to Health and Environmental Degradation


South Korea is confronted with occasional natural debacles as pollution blowing from China. During winter, the source is generally unreasonable burning of coal utilized in China for heating purposes. In the spring, yellow residue from the deserts of northern China and Mongolia are blown across Northeast Asia, carrying soot and cancer-causing agents from China-based industrial processes along the way. China is the largest emitter of anthropogenic waste, and winds blowing in the southwest direction have the greatest year-round effect on the level of environmental air pollution in South Korea, which is consistent with the direction of Shanghai emissions, resulting in worse levels of pollution in South Korea. It has been the reason for intense air pollution in South Korea, causing mutual environmental degradation in both China and South Korea.



The measure of air contamination that South Koreans experience on an occasional premise is outrageous. Now and again, the nation is positioned among the most polluted places in the world. Time and again China has been blamed for the presence of pollution in South Korea. Transboundary pollution exists in China, where the environmental policy is decentralized and where environmental disputes between provinces have occurred many times.

China’s past economic growth has depended heavily on fossil fuels, creating serious problems with air pollution. There are no limits to anthropogenic chemical emissions, and no matter where the chemicals are emitted into the atmosphere, they will affect the global climate. Beijing is the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world; the largest producer of marine debris; the worst perpetrators of illicit, unreported, and unregulated fishing; and the largest user of wildlife and timber products trafficked in the world.

While the Chinese people have endured the worst environmental impacts of its behavior, China is now threatening the global environment, economy, and health through unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and the exportation of its willful disregard for the environment.


What is Transboundary Pollution?

The pollution that originates in one country, but can cause harm by crossing borders by paths such as water or air in the atmosphere of another country is known as transboundary pollution. A pollutant can traverse through hundreds and even thousands of kilometers.

The vast distances that can disperse pollution indicate that it is not confined within any single nation’s borders.

Transboundary pollution issues have become progressively significant on the plan of politicians, business analysts, and researchers. Transboundary pollution is characterized legitimately as contamination that begins in a single nation yet can cause harm in another nation’s current circumstance, by intersection fringes through pathways like water or air. The issues of transboundary contamination incorporate issues like the fermentation of soils and lakes through a corrosive downpour, transboundary air contamination (often referred to as haze, smog, or smoke), and downstream waterway or sea contamination because of upstream acts.

The conventional Westphalian approach that shapes the foundation of the international system of modern times depends on the definition of geopolitical units, with the boundaries of state sovereignty being indicated by borders. Nonetheless, an unmistakable trait of transboundary contamination issues is that contamination doesn’t stay inside political limits. Accordingly, this fluid nature of the environment has challenged the environmental administration inside the system.


What is PM 2.5 and PM 10?

PM is additionally called Particulate Matter or particle pollution, which is a combination of solid particles and droplets of liquid present in the air. The particles in the air are so small that you can not even see them through your naked eyes. Some particles are so tiny that only electron microscopes can be used to detect them. PM2.5 and PM10, which are very harmful, are particulate emissions.

PM2.5 alludes to the air particulate matter that has a diameter under 2.5 micrometers, which is around 3% of the diameter of a human hair. The particles in PM2.5 classification are minute to such an extent that they must be identified with the assistance of the electron microscope. These are more minute than PM10 particles. PM10 are the particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers and they are additionally called fine particles. Environmental experts say that PM10 is otherwise called respirable particulate matter (Goyal, 2018)


Why is China being Blamed for Causing transboundary Pollution?

China is the largest emitter of anthropogenic waste, and winds blowing in the southwest direction have the greatest year-round effect on the level of environmental air pollution in South Korea, which is consistent with the direction of Shanghai emissions, resulting in worse levels of pollution in South Korea. It has been the reason for intense air pollution in South Korea, causing mutual environmental degradation in both China and South Korea.

The impact of China’s transboundary air pollutants accounts for 19% of the weekly average PM10 concentrations, ranging from 12% to 30% per season. More precisely, transboundary pollution is an extremely serious issue as it causes people residing at regional boundaries to suffer disproportionately from pollution. China produces the world’s highest air pollution and accounts for 18-35% of global emissions of air pollutants. Sulfur dioxide ( SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx ), carbon monoxide (CO), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), ammonia ( NH3) and particulate matter ( PM), including black carbon (BC) and organic carbon (OC), are the most important air pollutants in China. These contaminants make up the bulk of PM2.5 and O3 emission precursors, as well as short-lived climate pollutants, which have adverse effects on human health, agriculture, and the regional climate. These contaminants not only cause local environmental issues, such as premature deaths and declines in agricultural yields but also have a direct effect on temperature and pre-rainfall regional climate changes.

The research was done by a Chemical Engineer from 2018 to 2019. According to his observation, the average PM2.5 amount was 25 micrograms when the wind was not blowing from the direction of China. In comparison, the PM2.5 amount was 27 micrograms when the wind was blowing from China. When the wind blows from China, Seoul’s air pollution is 8 percent worse ( Nei, 2019).

In China, several major cities suffer from smog containing PM2.5-sized air pollutants. For example, on January 12, 2013, at several observation points in Beijing, the concentration of PM2.5 level surpassed more than 700 micrograms per cubic meter. This is roughly ten times higher than the environmental regulatory cap of China and about 20 times higher than that of Japan.

The major reasons causing air pollution that have been identified are briefly discussed:

The primary explanation is that climatic conditions (for instance, in Beijing) were very steady, with powerless vertical air flows during the wintertime of the year 2012-2013, when the air contamination issue started accepting inescapable public consideration. Stable air will in general hamper air trades between the upper layer and the boundary layer, and prompts the creation of smog and fog. Even though such smog was an existing issue in Beijing, during the colder time of year significant stretches of smoggy days were noticed (Tanabe, 2013).

The subsequent explanation is the extremely high concentration of vaporized toxins which are also known as aerosol pollutants(made out of PM, sulfate particles, nitrate particles, ammonium particles, and so on) in the atmosphere surpassed the limit that had been standardized.

Most of the aerosols originate from everyday life and economic activities, including the burning of petroleum products known as fossil fuels, for example, coal and oil, industrial functions and processes, cooking, and activities related to construction (Tanabe, 2013)


Transboundary Pollution from China: Its Impacts on South Korea

Both intense and chronic exposure to pollution is known to significantly affect cardiorespiratory wellbeing (Coulibaly, 2015). Intensifying air contamination in upper east Asia, including Korea and Japan, is recognized to be because of the long-range transport of air pollutants from industrialized territories of mainland China.

Besides anthropogenic air pollutants, Asian sand dust originating from China causes air pollution in South Korea. The Asian sand dust is transported to South Korea causing a major problem in the air quality of South Korea( Nakao, 2018). During ASD events in Korea, ambient nitrate and sulfate concentrations have been reported to remain high, accompanied by long-lasting concentrations of high ambient particulate matter ( PM) (Nakao, 2018).

Air pollution from China prompts increased mortality in South Korea, as indicated by new research by Ruixue Jia and Hyejin Ku, published in The Economic Journal. This investigation sets up an unmistakable connection between contamination in China – transported to territories in South Korea by Asian dust– and respiratory and cardiovascular death rates in South Korea. The conservative estimate of the authors indicates that South Korea would have suffered 2400 fewer deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases over ten years in the 2000s if the AQI in China was lower by 12 (one standard deviation in the sample) ( Jia &Ku, 2019).

Since this is an estimation of the effect of China’s pollution on South Korea operating via Asian dust, a rare occurrence that happens on average once a month, it is likely to lower the overall impact of China’s pollution on South Korean mortality, as powerful westerly winds are also capable of transporting Chinese pollution beyond Asian dust episodes.

An investigation of the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), created by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), discloses the normal South Korean can lose 1.4 years from their lives since air quality neglects to meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations for fine particulate contamination. The capital Seoul, the biggest city, and home to around 10 million individuals have the country’s most noticeably terrible pollution (Aqli, 2019).

The normal occupant will live 1.7 years less if the city’s high pollution levels proceed relative to if the WHO recommendation was met. South Korea’s particulate pollution is currently double the normal for the 36 other nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (Aqli, 2019).

The assessed loss of life for South Korea arrived at 15,825 out of 2016, as indicated by a report from Jang Jae-Yeon, an educator at Ajou University in Suwon, who referred to WHO information. Particulate issues noticeable all around can wind up in the lungs and cause genuine medical problems. The U.S. Natural Protection Agency cautions it can add to respiratory failures, asthma, bronchitis, and different diseases. A few investigations have recommended joins with a cellular breakdown in the lungs (Jaewon, 2019)


How has transboundary Pollution affected the Diplomatic Relations Between China & South Korea:

South Korea and China set up diplomatic relations formally on August 24, 1992, and during this, the relationship between China and South Korea was confirmed as “a good-neighborly and friendly cooperative relation”. From that point onward, Kim Dae-Jung, the Former President of South Korea visited China in November 1998. During the summit with Jiang Zemin, the President of China, both the parties chose to build up the relationship between the two nations into “the partnership of the 21st century” (Li, 2020).

Seoul has been battling to handle the ascent in air pollution that specialists have connected to China’s enormous industrial movement and outflows from South Korean vehicles. Fine residue levels in South Korea have hit new highs over the previous years. South Korea had initiated the idea of artificial rain to solve this issue with the help of China.

Ban Ki-moon, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations was brought in to head a new committee on the matter, and on March 21, 2019, he said that fine dust is not just a domestic issue, but also an issue that is related to  China.  The president of South Korea hopes that the veteran diplomat will play a key role in conveying the concerns of Seoul to Beijing and preparing a response. China thinks South Korea is simply shifting responsibility elsewhere (Jaewon, 2019).

The difference threatens to indeed chill relations between the neighbors, which in recent years sparred over the implementation of a U.S. missile defense system by Seoul. That dispute prompted China to briefly banning group tours toward the South and other retribution for Korean companies that proved painful (Jaewon, 2019).

In the journal “Modern Economics & Management Forum” the author said- “China was also accused of causing serious environmental problems to Korean Peninsula, especially the air pollution caused by sulfur dioxide” (Li, 2020). Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul, said that in 2019, natural analysts had reasoned that China was answerable for 50-60% of South Korea’s pollution problem. But, in response to questions related to South Korea’s blame on China, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said “we all know that the cause of air pollution is very complex,”, noting that Seoul’s recent PM2.5 readings have exceeded Beijing’s (Jaewon, 2019).

The diplomatic relation between China and South Korea indeed went through some blame-game due to this matter related to pollution. Though it was handled professionally by both the states, it left a trail of disappointment in the diplomatic ties.



Transboundary pollution is indeed a matter that requires more attention. The ability of pollutants to transfer from one region to another hampers both the environment and the health of the residents. Problems with air quality have become a serious global problem as it causes over 3 million deaths worldwide each year. The effect of cross-border transport of air pollutants on human health has become a serious international issue in East Asia with generations of large air pollutants in China. The problems related to transboundary pollution are to be addressed with more seriousness. Often this issue has been delayed from addressing due to the political, economic, and social diversity entangled with it. But, if further delayed, the political, economic, and social diversity will be maintained at the cost of myriads of human lives.



Mubassira Tabassum Hossain

Bangladesh University of Professionals

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