Builders from China: From Third-World Solidarity to Globalized State Capitalism

Builders from China: From Third-World Solidarity to Globalized State Capitalism


Translation to Spanish by:
Latinoamerica Sustentable, LAS.

With permission from the author, Latinoamérica Sustentable (LAS) has translated into Spanish the article ‘Builders from China: From Third-World Solidarity to Globalized State Capitalism’. This work makes important contributions to our understanding of the globalization of Chinese companies in Latin America and the Caribbean. We hope that this translation can stimulate reflections on the presence of China in the region among the Spanish-speaking public.

Hong Zhang’s article on China’s large construction companies highlights the importance of looking at China’s globalization from a historical and critical perspective. The author points out that while scholars and policy makers have long endeavored to understand China’s insertion in the international economy based on indicators such as foreign direct investment or development aid, a much more important aspect that has modeled China’s relationship with the developing world has been overlooked: international contracting and the unprecedented expansion of its state-owned construction companies. Thus, while China has been extensively studied for its roles as “investor” or “financier”, domestic Chinese narratives emphasize its role as “builder” and “ally” within the framework of economic cooperation among developing countries. Zhang also highlights that the origin and consolidation of state-owned construction companies have been shaped by China’s changing role in the global economy, from being a labour exporter, to a capital and technology exporter, and in recent years, aspiring to be a “technical standard setter”.

The latter is relevant for Latin America and the Caribbean, a region with a historical infrastructure gap. In the last two decades, Latin American governments have not only seen China as a source of financing and investment, but, more importantly, as a key partner for the construction of mega infrastructure projects, many of which have been developed in ecologically and socially fragile territories. Therefore, as China becomes a technical standard setter through international contracting processes, it faces a crossroads: help Latin America achieve sustainable development or support projects that prevent it.

In a scenario where the COVID-19 pandemic has impoverished and further widened social and economic gaps, the governments of the region have declared a growing interest in reactivation through the construction of infrastructure and the expansion of big scale extractive activities throughout the region. And of course, the vast majority see Chinese companies as priority partners. This is evident in the increasing number of countries that have joined the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), both of which aim to achieve global connectivity and were initiated by China.

Civil society organizations in the region now face an opportunity to work actively together in order to promote the implementation of commitments for environmental and social protection, considering that on the global stage China continues to make statements in favor of a green agenda to address climate change, protect fragile ecosystems and develop sustainable infrastructure. The question, as Zhang reflects, is how to make this “projection of Chinese state capitalism” align in with the values ​​of solidarity that characterize the Latin American peoples and their relationship with nature and the world. It will also be critical to ensure that Chinese state-owned companies ensure that they reflect the environmental values​, norms and standards that the Chinese government is increasingly promoting in the projects in which they participate.

Diana Castro

Latinoamerica Sustentable