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Tips for Engaging Chinese Stakeholders

Map the project investment chain

If you are concerned about the impacts or potential impacts of a project, it is important to develop a clear understanding of which actors are behind it. Once you know which actors are involved, you can assess where the strongest pressure points are and what opportunities there may be for engagement and advocacy with key actors.

Engage with a range of actors

If you decide to engage directly with a Chinese company and do not get a positive response, you should consider engaging with other concerned institutions. For example, you could consider engaging the Chinese embassy in your country, state institutions responsible for oversight of outbound investment, the company’s headquarters, its financial backers, and so on. If you send a letter to the local subsidiary responsible for a project, you could also communicate with the company headquarters, the Chinese embassy in your country, and the Ministry of Commerce in Beijing. In cases where there are non-Chinese stakeholders involved, such as joint venture partners, financiers or significant shareholders, it is also important to engage with them.

Document the project risks and company conduct

It is vital that you gather evidence of the risks or impacts of a project, as well as information regarding the conduct of the company and any violations. Without evidence of harm (or risk of harm), your advocacy is unlikely to be effective. If you approach a company or other stakeholders with concerns, but you have no evidence, it will be easy for them to dismiss your claims. Likewise, if you approach a Chinese bank or regulator with your concerns about a project, that institution may request an explanation from the developer. Without evidence, those concerns can be dismissed by the company as unfounded.

Assess compliance with local laws

One thing that almost all Chinese policies, regulations and guidelines for overseas investment have in common is that they call on companies and banks to respect local laws and regulations. For this reason, assessing legal compliance is very important. If you can identify and document breaches of local laws, you will be in a stronger position to call for a company, its financial backers and regulators to take action.

In your engagement, refer strategically to Chinese policies

Although China now has many policies and guidelines on overseas investment, they are mostly not binding and it is apparent that many companies do not implement them. Some companies know they exist but are unsure exactly what is expected of them in terms of implementation. At the same time, more and more guidelines are being issued by various government agencies and industry associations. This reflects an awareness of the need to address these issues, and a growing political will to do so. By referring to these documents when engaging with Chinese actors, civil society groups can play a role in raising the profile of these guidelines and strengthening their implementation. It may also be strategic to frame concerns drawing on language that has been drafted by the Chinese state bodies that companies must report to and industry associations that they are members of.

This guide includes a database of key policies, regulations and guidelines. It summarizes content and extracts key articles that are especially relevant to the protection of the environment and community rights. If you see a document that might be useful to you, we encourage you to read the full document yourself. You should keep in mind that Chinese versions of these texts are authoritative. English translations are a guide only.

Consider your tone and language when engaging with Chinese actors

Until recently, Chinese companies, financiers and state actors have had limited experience engaging with NGOs. Many hold negative opinions of NGOs, seeing them as politicized or “anti-Chinese”. These perceptions are still present, but as Chinese stakeholders get used to engaging with NGOs both inside and outside China, opportunities for engagement may increase. Nonetheless, your engagement may be more effective if you consider your tone and language when communicating with Chinese companies and state institutions. Language that is deemed too direct or aggressive is not likely to get a positive response. You may use the Chinese policies and guidelines as a reference for framing your messages.

If you plan to write a letter, you should send it in your own language, English and Chinese, whenever possible. See our Useful Contacts document for contact details of key regulators, industry groups and banks.

Do not be discouraged if you receive no response

Engaging with Chinese companies, banks and regulators is not easy. In most cases, communities and NGOs that write to Chinese companies receive no response. This is partially due to the limited experience that many Chinese stakeholders have with public and civil society engagement. However, this is beginning to change, and some Chinese companies have begun to start responding more positively to requests for dialogue, as have Chinese embassies in some countries. Also, just because you receive no reply does not mean that your concerns have not been heard. Letters may be passed up through the company or government agencies and action may be taken behind the scenes. It is important to continue your advocacy, including with the government and other companies or banks that are involved, to keep the pressure on and make sure your messages are not ignored.

Know that Chinese companies and regulators do care about their reputation

There is a common perception that Chinese companies do not care as much about their reputation and corporate image as Western companies. However, Chinese companies (especially larger ones) are increasingly aware of the reputational damage caused by controversies around their projects. Moreover, the Chinese government has been increasingly concerned with how conduct of Chinese companies reflects on the national image. State-owned enterprises are under particular pressure of upholding their reputation, since it is closely linked with the state’s. The Chinese government is working to improve the monitoring and you can help strengthen it by sharing information from the ground. This means that both quiet engagement with Chinese stakeholders and more public advocacy, when used strategically, can be effective in influencing business activities.