Chinese National Oil Companies and the Economic Development of African Oil Producers

This is a research project co-sponsored by the Department for International Development (DFID) of the UK government and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), amounting to nearly one million pounds. The research is being undertaken jointly by the Open University and the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy (CEPMLP). The project commenced in June 2015 and will last for three years.

The project team at the first advisory meeting 21st and 22nd April 2016

China’s increasingly close engagement with the African continent has triggered considerable controversies over the past decade, with a leading role played by Chinese NOCs.  While we hypothesise that the Chinese do things ‘differently’ from other oil investors in Africa, we do not know whether the different corporate strategies of the leading Chinese NOCs and the specificities of African political economies they engage with generate unique forms of development, and if so in whose interests?

Research to date suggests that, rather than being a one-way flow of investment, African institutions have played an important role in shaping the terms of this engagement and with it the potential for development. Our project will be the first to assess in a systematic way whether and how such developmental benefits may be occurring, and we aim at investigating the strategies pursued by Chinese national oil companies (NOCs) and their likely implications for economic development in Africa.

We will start by investigating the driving forces behind Chinese NOCs’ dealing with African oil producers, and the complex ‘packages’ of aid, trade and investment in Africa through Chinese NOCs, banks and ministries. We have selected three countries - Ghana, Sudan and Nigeria – as case-studies, as they have all attracted significant investment from Chinese NOCs but have represented different aspects of Chinese engagement with the continent. These countries are also unique from each other which will allow us to examine the role that African agency plays in shaping the nature of and benefits from this new investment in their oil sectors.

We will also assess the impacts of the Chinese NOCs on economic development of these countries and the extent to which the growth they generate – directly, through oil-backed infrastructure, and indirectly, via state revenue – boosts the economies of certain African oil producers and benefits those at the lower rungs of the social ladder.

The Dundee University team is being led by Dr Janet Xuanli Liao and the members include Dr Xiaoyi Mu, Dr Ariel Bergmann, Dr Elizabeth Bastida and Dr Manny Macatangay.

The authority and rigour of the research will be augmented by the participation of the Central Party School of the CCP, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC)’s Economic and Technology Research Institute, and our African partners.

Access the project website here

Overview: An overview of the Chinese National Oil Corporations (NOCs), their relationship with the government and their overseas activities.

Driving Forces: A summary of the driving concerns and actors behind Chinese NOCs’ “going out” strategy in different regions, especially towards the African continent.  

Governance:  As Chinese NOCs have to deal with different types of governments in Africa, with variety of economic development levels, there is a challenge facing both the Chinese and African parties in terms of how to build capacity and maintain good governance. 

Linkage: Looking at the strength of local linkages in African economic development, and the impact the Chinese NOCs has got to the local economies.

Finance: This part talks about China’s Oil-for-Infrastructure approach in financing the oil projects in Africa and its implications. The hasty collapse of oil prices over the past few years has made things more challenging for Chinese NOCs to continue their current strategy. 

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Janet Xuanli Liao
Academic involved:
Dr Xuanli Liao