"Individual agency in South-South policy transfer: China and Ethiopia’s industrial park development" - by CWP alum Yuan Wang & Hong Zhang

April 21, 2024

This article process-traces Ethiopia’s adoption and implementation of the industrial park development strategy from the mid 2000s to the late 2010s. How does policy transfer unfold, and what characterizes China’s influence on Ethiopia’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ) strategy? Drawing on extensive interviews conducted during multiple field trips to Ethiopia and China between 2017 and 2023, complemented by secondary sources, we argue that policy transfer involves navigating both structural opportunities—providing incentives and resources for individuals—and individual agency to surmount structural constraints. Contributing to the growing body of literature on South-South policy transfer, our study underscores the pivotal role of individual agency in overcoming prevalent structural constraints within South-South contexts, characterized by fluid power relations and less defined policy transfer networks. Additionally, we emphasize the importance of scrutinizing the agency of host-country actors in their engagements with a rising China, rather than assuming China’s impacts in a deterministic manner. Our detailed documentation offers a nuanced perspective on China’s influence in Ethiopia’s industrialization. We show that primary agency in the policy transfer process should be attributed to Ethiopian actors, whereas the roles of Chinese actors range from initiation, facilitation, and occasionally, reluctant responses in this intricate process.

Yuan Wang & Hong Zhang Published online: 18 Apr 2024 - https://doi.org/10.1080/09692290.2024.2335994

Yuan Wang's research interests cover global China, African politics and comparative political economy of development. She is especially interested in African state effectiveness and China's economic and political engagement with Africa. Her teaching interests at Duke Kunshan include China and the world, Sino-African relations, and African politics and development.

Her book project investigates why Chinese-financed and Chinese-constructed projects follow starkly contrasting trajectories in different African countries. She has also undertaken research projects covering Chinese overseas engagement in Cambodia and Europe. Her papers have been published in leading academic journals such as Comparative Politics.

She received a bachelor of law in international relations from Shanghai International Studies University and a master of public policy from Harvard Kennedy School. Oxford University awarded her both a master of science in politics research and a doctor of philosophy in politics. She was the 2021-22 fellow at the Columbia-Harvard China and the world program and postdoctoral research scholar at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University. She also taught Sino-African Relations in History and Present at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University. Before returning to academia, she served in the China office of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and at the Sino-Africa Centre of Excellence Foundation, Nairobi office.

Hong Zhang is a China Public Policy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ash Center of Harvard Kennedy School. Hong’s research is centered on China’s engagements in global economic development, particularly focusing on Chinese companies’ involvement in overseas infrastructure projects, and the role of the bureaucracy in coordinating international and domestic development agenda.

Hong co-edits the People’s Map of Global China and the Global Cina Pulse Journal. Prior to joining the Ash Center, Hong was a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies’ China-Africa Research Initiative, and a fellow at the Columbia-Harvard China and the World Program. Hong received her PhD in Public Policy from George Mason University in 2021. She has a MSc in Sociology from London School of Economics and a Bachelor’s degree in economics from Renmin University of China. Previously, she had worked as an international reporter for China’s Caixin Media.

Photo Credit: By Mimi Abebayehu - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68780896

Yuan Wang Duke
Hong Zhang Stella Indiana University