A lack of clear political commitment together with confusing rules and enforcement often characterize the institutional context of policy implementation and regulatory compliance in developing countries. By connecting such contextual features to existing models of policy implementation and regulatory compliance, we examine how regulatory factors are related to basic and proactive corporate environmental management practices in the Pearl River Delta region in China. Drawing on data derived from both a survey and in‐depth interviews, we show that a perception of clear political commitment to environmental protection across multiple government levels and units is positively associated with business efforts in basic environmental practices, regardless of the specific enforcement intensity. Nevertheless, a perception of clear political commitment is not related to proactive environmental practices. Conversely, a perception of policy ambiguity, in the form of confusing regulatory standards and enforcement, is negatively associated with corporate efforts in both basic and proactive environmental practices; yet, intensive inspections mitigate these negative associations with policy ambiguity.