Chinese State Owned Enterprises: An Observer’s Guide

Paul Hubbard, Patrick Williams
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Not all of China’s SOEs have evolved equally. To understand modern SOEs the paper contrasts the giant centrally owned firms in the energy and utilities sectors under the control of the central State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) in Beijing – some of which have financial resources comparable to medium-sized countries – with the tens of thousands of provincially and locally owned SOEs that have survived reform with various degrees of state ownership and across all sectors. The paper finds that giant central SOEs may be politically important to Beijing, but most SOEs are provincial and local businesses operating in competitive, rather than monopolistic, environments. Instead of dealing with SOEs as a class, the challenge for policymakers is to deal with market structures that undermine competition, and to regulate socially harmful behaviour, irrespective of the ultimate owner of the capital involved.