On 2 March 2023, RSIS hosted a seminar on “The Domestic Evolution and Global Expansion of Chinese State-Owned Enterprises.” It was organised and chaired by Dr Stefanie Kam, Research Fellow at the China Programme, IDSS. The speaker, Dr Wendy Leutert, Assistant Professor at Indiana University in the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, gave a presentation on the reform and global expansion of China’s state-owned enterprises.
Dr Leutert discussed the role that Chinese state-owned enterprises play in China’s economy and political system, as well as their growing international presence, especially in infrastructure development. State-owned enterprises, or SOEs, serve a variety of functions for the Chinese state, which controls them through mechanisms such as bureaucratic design, personnel control, and Communist Party organisations. Despite their enduring presence in China, SOEs have shown weaker performance in recent decades. In addition to advancing industrial policy, implementing domestic and international initiatives, and supporting social stability, SOEs also serve as a tool to manage financial, political, and health crises. Local SOEs are more numerous, but smaller and less strategically significant than central SOEs. Yet, provincial SOEs are increasingly active on international markets. Internationally, SOEs have evolved from contractors to owners, operators, and investors of infrastructure projects with Chinese development bank financing. Dr Leutert showed how Chinese SOEs serve domestic economic and political priorities, while also encountering new challenges and opportunities as they strengthen their commercial and strategic ties abroad.
During the Q&A session, members of the audience, which comprised students, academics, and members of the public, posed questions about the data sources, scope conditions, implications, and extensions of the analysis in the context of various local settings. The role of intermediaries between Chinese SOEs and their local counterparts in host countries in different regions; including in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America; the unexpected consequences of Chinese SOEs operating in host countries, and the impact of US sanctions on Chinese SOEs abroad and their presence in western countries, were also among the topics discussed.