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China's outward foreign direct investment in the Belt and Road Initiative: What are the motives for Chinese firms to invest?

Jeffrey B. Nugent and Jiaxuan Lu

China Economic Review, 2021, vol. 68, issue C

Abstract: Because of the potentially large and important effects of the extremely ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) launched by China in late 2013, considerable attention has been given to the motives for, and repercussions of, the BRI-driven infrastructural projects. Yet, the non-infrastructural outward foreign direct investment (FDI) from China to BRI countries, which varies quite substantially across different sectors and different countries, has not yet received much attention. In contrast to some recent studies showing that the massive initiative has increased China's total FDI outflows to fellow BRI countries, in this paper, based on our sector-level difference-in-differences models, we find that effect to be statistically insignificant. Yet, at the same time, we provide empirical evidence on the sectoral pattern of China's outward FDI before and after 2014 indicating that China's FDI outflows to BRI countries have significantly increased in sectors characterized by overcapacity and contributing to pollution in China, thereby demonstrating that China's BRI-driven outward FDI has been very selective in terms of sectors. We confirm these findings with a variety of robustness checks and show that it is BRI countries with relatively low institutional quality that have been more likely to receive these types of FDI from China. We thus speculate that Chinese firms have been motivated to place FDI investments in BRI countries for the sake of alleviating China's own overcapacity and pollution problems. Our findings lead us to suggest that, although these sectoral patterns are consistent with the different stages of economic development in which China and its fellow BRI-identified countries find themselves, Chinese investors and host country governments should be more concerned with the potential for unwanted side-effects of the FDI investments so that the mutually beneficial effects of the BRI can be sustained into the indefinite future among all countries involved.

Keywords: Belt and Road Initiative; Foreign direct investment; Overcapacity; Pollution; Institutional quality (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: F21 F53 L6 Q5 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1016/j.chieco.2021.101628

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China Economic Review is currently edited by B.M. Fleisher, K. X. D. Huang, M.E. Lovely, Y. Wen, X. Zhang and X. Zhu

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