Southern In(ter)dependency? An Actor-Centered Approach to East-South Investments

IMPRS Colloquium

  • Date: Dec 5, 2022
  • Time: 03:00 PM (Local Time Germany)
  • Speaker: Clara Baumann
  • Doctoral Researcher, IMPRS-SPCE
Southern In(ter)dependency? An Actor-Centered Approach to East-South Investments

For decades, global “Northern” economies have expanded their production chains to the global “South” and benefitted from its cheap primary resources and surplus labor. These dynamics impeded the development of their target countries and strongly enhanced their economic and social inequalities. Although the more recent emergence of new competitors from East Asia – and, since the early 2000s, especially China – challenges these traditional power dynamics, mainstream literature conceptualizes them as new “core” countries that merely reinforce traditional dynamics of dependency. In contrast, my research explores whether, and how far, we can expect potentially new patterns of “East-South” investment: Do the investment activities of new market participants from East Asia (and especially China) generate post-dependent development rather than new dependencies? In other words, do they enhance a new paradigm of development that has not existed before?
I argue that the impact of Chinese multinational companies (MNCs) on development in the global South – based on China´s own national interests, stage of development, and unique state-firm relations – differs from that of its Northern counterparts in various dimensions: First, they enhance new dynamics of competition and collaboration by focusing on specific sectors that had long been neglected by Northern investors but that are crucial for the development of its target countries. Second, their impact on the ground is strongly shaped by both the legal guidelines and informal rules of their target countries: Although Chinese overseas MNCs barely differ from their Northern counterparts in their attempts to use legal loopholes when entering new countries and markets, they demonstrate higher flexibility, stronger learning curves, and – under certain circumstances – a greater willingness to adapt to both target-country state and labor demands.
Building on theories of dependency and dependent development, I compare the crucial cases of US-led and Chinese MNCs in Colombia. Guided by a qualitative approach and elements of grounded theory, I combine documentary research and expert and participant interviews with ethnographic observations from various months of online and in-person fieldwork in Colombia.

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