Interest in China’s role as an international development actor has surged due to China’s growing presence across the developing world. While much of the media and scholarly literature have focused on Chinese trade and investments in the developing world, there is a scarcity of research on the role of Chinese non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in China’s internationalization. Thus, one of the motivations of this paper is to construct a research agenda that may begin to fill this gap. Although currently limited, Chinese NGOs are beginning to internationalize. Available literature indicates that it is largely government-organised NGOs (GONGOs) that have the capacity to expand operations beyond China. However, fieldwork show that smaller Chinese NGOs are beginning to look beyond the domestic realm, despite the well-documented challenges that NGOs face across a number of sectors, from navigating state control to securing funding. I present a case study of two different NGOs that have taken the step to internationalize their operations. Yet, a close analysis of these two NGOs indicate that a two-track process is emerging, whereby large GONGOs with resources are able to expand and engage in large scale infrastructural development projects, whereas smaller NGOs are more cautious and are undertaking projects where they have proven expertise. Moreover, the case study suggests that GONGOs and their overseas projects are closely aligned with the Chinese state’s foreign trade and investment objectives. While smaller NGOs are not bounded by such obligations, the internal domestic situation pertaining to NGOs restrains the scope of their overseas work.
Jennifer YJ Hsu is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta, Canada. She earned her PhD at the University of Cambridge and has previously taught at the State University of New York at Binghamton (Department of Sociology). She is currently researching on the role of the local Chinese state in the development of the NGO sector. She has worked with a variety of domestic Chinese NGOs in both professional and academic capacity. She is the co-author of HIV/AIDS in China – The Economic and Social Determinants and is also the co-editor of China in an Era of Transition: Understanding Contemporary State and Society Actors and The Chinese Corporatist State: Adaptation, Survival and Resistance. Her latest writing project is titled Layers and Spaces of the State: Non-Governmental Organizations and the Chinese State.