Perceptions of China’s outward foreign direct investment in European critical infrastructure and strategic industries


This study analyses impacts of China’s outward foreign direct investment on host country policies and on the bilateral relationship with China by unravelling European and Chinese perceptions. We compare how China’s takeover of German robotics manufacturer KUKA AG and the investment into nuclear power project Hinkley Point C in the UK were perceived amongst European societal, economic and political stakeholders. Based on media articles, companies’ statements, political statements and interviews in China and the UK, we argue that China’s investments in Europe lead to threat perceptions amongst host country stakeholders and fuel debates on whether and how to regulate deals that could harm security and technology interests. While rising threat perceptions have already altered FDI policies in the UK, the German case inherits the potential to alter economic policies.

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Fig. 1

Source: Authors’ selection

Fig. 2

Source: Authors’ selection (focusing on the involvement by Chinese companies)


  1. 1.

    The ‘Made in China 2025’ strategy outlines technological upgrade in 10 sectors including information technology, numerical control and robotics, aerospace equipment, ocean engineering equipment and high-tech ships, railway equipment, energy saving and new energy vehicles, new materials, medicine and medical devices, agricultural machinery (State Council 2015).

  2. 2.

    The actual amount of Chinese global outward FDI (excluding Hong Kong) is difficult to determine due to factors such as re-investments via offshore tax heavens and Hong Kong.

  3. 3.

    The fear raised in political circles is also not shared by the CEO of Daimler, Dieter Zetsche, who does not see any danger coming from a possible acquisition of KUKA by Midea ( 2016).

  4. 4.

    In the following, we only refer to CGN as the biggest consortium partner.

  5. 5.

    The government guaranteed above market electricity prices to EDF for 35 years (£92.50 to EDF for every megawatt hour of electricity generated).


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The authors would like to thank Robert Falkner, Kalypso Nicolaïdis and Jie Yu for valuable comments and feedback on earlier drafts of this paper. The research was supported by the ‘Dahrendorf Forum—Debating Europe’, a joint initiative by the Hertie School of Governance, LSE and Stiftung Mercator.

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Correspondence to Wiebke Rabe.

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Rabe, W., Gippner, O. Perceptions of China’s outward foreign direct investment in European critical infrastructure and strategic industries. Int Polit 54, 468–486 (2017).

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  • Chinese outward FDI
  • Europe–China relations
  • Strategic industries
  • Nuclear power
  • Perceptions
  • Non-traditional security