Author: Xu Yi-Chong.
The role of Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in Africa is puzzling: they pioneered China's inroads into Africa and shouldered the responsibilities of building and expanding cooperation with African countries, while these very activities and engagement, according to many scholars, often contradict or even undermine the political and diplomatic objectives adopted by the central government. To understand this puzzle, this article unpacks China's engagement in Africa, by examining large central SOEs in the resources and infrastructure sectors. It concludes that the commitment of large SOEs in Africa relies on small public and private contractors. The paradox therefore is, that while the central government encourages and supports the large SOEs to ‘go global’, it has limited capacity to control and regulate the small contractors.