Over the last few decades, China has seen a steep rise in diverse eco city and low carbon city policies. Recently, attention has begun to focus on the perceived shortcomings in the practical delivery of related initiatives, with several publications suggesting a gap between ambitious policy goals and the emerging realities of the newly built environment. To probe this further, in this article we examine – based on the policy network approach – how the gap between high-level national policies and local practice implementation can be explained in the current Chinese context. We develop a four-pronged typology of eco city projects based on differential involvement of key (policy) actor groups, followed by a mapping of what are salient policy network relations among these actors in each type. Our analysis suggests that, within the overall framework of national policy, a core axis in the network relations is that between local government and land developers. In some cases, central government agencies– often with buy-in from international architecture, engineering and consulting firms – seek to influence local government planning through various incentives aimed at rendering sustainability a serious consideration. However, this is mostly done in a top-down manner, which overemphasizes a rational, technocratic planning mode while underemphasizing interrelationships among actors. This makes the emergence of a substantial implementation gap in eco city practice an almost predictable outcome. Consequently, we argue that special attention be paid in particular to the close interdependency between the interests of local government actors and those of land and real estate developers. Factoring in this aspect of the policy network is essential if eco city implementation is to gain proper traction on the ground.