Transnational Transport Corporations in Global North - Chinese Transnational State Capitalism in Victoria Australia



Transnational State Capitalism, Cross-border infrastructure provision, Geopolitical Tensions, Institutional barriers




In the contemporary era, the evolving transport sector is establishing a new transport political economy fuelled by investments from diverse global business sectors that have not traditionally been involved in transport supply.  International agencies gradually occupy a dominant role in leading transport transitions. Sitting at the intersection of the rise of China as a global power and China’s growing role in global transport infrastructure and service provision, the changes in bilateral relations present a critical social, environmental, and geopolitical challenge for both China and Australia.

Within the complexities, though there is a rising number of scholars’ works examining China’s major infrastructure provision in the Global South (Liu & Lim, 2023), there exists a substantial deficiency in comprehending these Chinese companies in the Global North which has significantly vary institutional context and attitude towards transnational state capitalism (Babic et al. 2020). Meanwhile, there is considerable research on the rise of anti-China sentiment and the diplomatic confrontation between Australia and China (Gill, 2023), there is a notable scarcity of studies that have explored the impacts of geopolitical dynamics on global urban development (Acuto & Rayner, 2016). Taking the transnational provision of transport infrastructure and services as an entry point, this paper answers the question of how these Chinese transnational companies are negotiating across international tensions and local planning systems to deliver transport infrastructure and service in Australian cities in uncertain geopolitical climates.

Through policy analysis, and institutional analysis of the 10 semi-structured interviews, we have identified the three institutional layers of transnational state capitalism obstacles in Global North (i.e., formal institutional layer, institutional agency layer and informal institutional layer) and the two transnational corporations’ navigating strategy features of political-culture oriented practice and the transnational adaptation prioritised practice.

Specifically, we found that Chinese state-owned and private corporations faced slightly different geopolitical and regulatory challenges but similar local cultural, social and reputational challenges in the host city. The geopolitical tensions between Australia and China hindered the continuous development of transnational transport corporations’ operations. There were more frequent enquiries from both State and Federal Governments on Chinese corporations. Simultaneously, the private companies met stricter home country supervision. Regarding the informal institutional layer, the common issue was a mismatch of knowledge and understanding of transport development between Chinese companies and the Australian planning sector. On top of that, the distrust from both local policymakers and the local community sides was an insurmountable obstacle for them.

The unfavourable geopolitical context that was created by the national policymakers from both the home country and the host country couldn’t be changed by the transnational agencies, but they were strategically navigating through the difficulties and holding a long-term view waiting for the switch of bilateral relation trend. Their transnational operation was not only an economic business but also aimed to accumulate political and symbolic capital internationally. Both state-owned and private corporations highly value continuous adjustment and technological innovation as the key strategy in the host city so as to pursue acceptance and recognition from both the top and bottom sides of the Global North host context.

Author Biographies

  • Xiao Ma, University of Melbourne

    Dr Xiao Ma is a postdoctoral research fellow (ARC) in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning. She is working on the ARC Discovery Project of Emerging technologies of Transport: finding new practices in urban governance.

    Her research interests in transport planning, transnationalism, political economy, and urban development.

    Prior to joining the University of Melbourne, Xiao was a sessional lecturer working at the University of Sydney and Macquarie University. She graduated from the University of Sydney with her PhD in 2021. Her PhD examines the transnational housing production in Sydney, Australia.

  • Yushu Liang, Nanjing University

    She was selected as the doctor of innovation and entrepreneurship in Jiangsu Province's "innovation and Entrepreneurship Program" in 2020. She is mainly engaged in the research of regional architecture, architectural anthropology, the modernity of nomadic peoples and their architecture. She has published more than ten monographs, translations and academic papers, and won the excellent paper award of the academic annual meeting of the Chinese Architectural Society.


Alami, I., & Dixon, A. D. (2020). The strange geographies of the ‘new’ state capitalism. Political Geography, 82, 102237.

Liu, H., & Lim, G. (2023). When the state goes transnational: The political economy of China’s engagement with Indonesia. Competition & Change, 27(2), 402–421.

Babic, M., Garcia-Bernardo, J., & Heemskerk, E. M. (2020). The rise of transnational state capital: State-led foreign investment in the 21st century. Review of International Political Economy, 27(3), 433–475.

Gill, B. (2023). Explaining the Troubled Australia-China Relationship: A Perspective from Australia. China Review, 23(1), 243–275.