Chinese International Contractors in Africa: Structure and Agency

Image: Flickr, Conleth Brady
Image: Flickr, Conleth Brady

As the builders of many of Africa’s mega infrastructure projects, Chinese international construction and engineering contractors (ICECs) are a significant group of actors in Africa.

Although Chinese ICECs and have attained a dominant position in the African market, there have been no systematic studies into this group. This paper is an initial attempt to unpack the role of ICECs in China’s international economic relations. Drawing on primary Chinese sources, I trace the historical evolution of China’s international contracting industry. I find that the industry was born at a historical juncture of China’s economic transition in the late 1970s, from a special state mandate to explore overseas markets. The growth of the industry has been the result of the Chinese state’s careful cultivation, with a strategic purpose to internationalize China’s industrial capacity. I also show that, contrary to common assumptions, it is the ICECs that drive China’s international lending in infrastructure projects, rather than the other way round. Chinese ICECs’ agency needs more careful study, as ICECs are set to become even more deeply involved in Africa’s and other regions’ economic development.

1 May 2021