SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

Weiwei Chen

BA (CCIT, China) MSc in Development Studies (SOAS)
  • Research
  • Publications


Weiwei Chen
Weiwei Chen
Email address:
Thesis title:
The Dynamics of Chinese Private OFDI in Ethiopia: A Comparison of Light Manufacturing Industry and Construction Materials Industry
Year of Study:
Internal Supervisors


Weiwei is a PhD candidate in Development Studies at SOAS. She will start her PhD fellowship at UNU-WIDER (Sep-Nov 2019) in Helinsky, Finland.

Prior to her PhD at SOAS, she worked for the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) in Germany and the Chinese Embassy in the UK. Weiwei worked as the research assistant for the Principal Investigator, Prof. Carlos Oya in a 4-year international collaborative academic research project on ‘Chinese Firms and Employment Dynamics in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Comparative Analysis’, funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) and Economic Social Research Council (ESRC) (2015/19). She has been conducting fieldwork in both Angola and Ethiopia since 2015. Research undertaken so far has led to a deep understanding of the ecosystem and the way that Chinese firms operate in SSA.

Weiwei was the National Research Consultant of International Trade Center (ITC) for the Partnership for Investment and Growth in Africa and in the Pacific (PIGA) project during her fieldwork in Ethiopia (2018). Weiwei took charge of conducting surveys with a wide range of Chinese firms in the light manufacturing and the agro-processing sectors and producing reports for ITC headquarters in Geneva.

Weiwei was also affiliated with the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) as the Chinese Investment Advisor between Oct 2017 and Sep 2018. Her work for the EIC included receiving high officials, delegates and potential investors (both Chinese and International); observation of the EIC One-Stop Service Station and Industry Park Developers in selected industrial parks; and exploring characteristics and investment trajectories of Chinese firms within and outside of industrial parks.

PhD Research

This research will explore the nature and dynamics of Chinese private OFDI in Ethiopia’s manufacturing industry.

This research takes a mixed research methods approach, mainly qualitative research (extensive literature review and ethnographic studies) and some quantitative research (statistical analysis) will be used to ensure that not only the behaviour of Chinese investors/actors but also linkages with government policies and institutional context will be covered and studied in-depth.

By taking the light manufacturing industry and construction material industry for comparison, why Chinese private firms are investing in Ethiopia and to what extent do the investment trajectories of Chinese firms in these two sectors differ and why will be explored.

Most data collected between Sep 2017 and Feb 2019. The author spent six months in the Eastern Industry Park (2017/18) as part of her PhD fieldwork to conduct participant observations, semi-structured interviews, management-level surveys and on-site observation. Interviews were undertaken by the author herself with frequent follow-ups. Surveys were conducted with 16 private manufacturing firms between Jan and April 2018. 10 of 16 are in light manufacturing sectors, and the remaining 6 are in construction material sectors. Moreover, the author conducted various participant observations with not only Chinese firms and industrial park committee but also with Ethiopian government agents. Parts of the author’s participant observation was to observe the manner of the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) One-stop-service Station regarding their service and investment promotion strategy; collecting constraints and feedbacks from firms and report them to the Deputy Commissioner of the EIC monthly, etc. This unique positionality allows the author to have a multi-facet angle to observe what’s really happening on the ground.

This thesis argues that “methodological nationalism” has little validly in explaining Chinese private investment in Ethiopia. The heterogeneous nature of Chinese private capital and politics embedded in requires sub-sectoral and sub-national contextualization. Investment trajectories of Chinese private firms differ not only with respect to attributes of investor’s own educational background, working experience and regional/provincial government policy in his/her hometown but also due to the politics and relations between investor, host country state and local labour.

The management of Chinese private FDI in Ethiopia is a product of ‘an on-going learning process’ for all stakeholders.


  • 'The Political Economy of the Chinese Private Investment in Ethiopia: A Case Study of Eastern Industry Park', Oxford Talk,Feb19th 2019,Oxford University, Oxford, UK [Unpublished]
  • 'The Political Economy of the Chinese Investment in Ethiopia’s Developmental State’, FCO Briefing, 20th December 2018, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London, UK [Internal]
  • 'Exploring the Dynamics between the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC), the Chinese Business Institutional Mechanism and Tacit Networks in Chinese Private Investment in Ethiopia’ (revised version)’
  • 'Ethiopian Studies Conference, 18th December 2018, University of Edinburgh, UK [Unpublished]
  • 'Exploring the Dynamics between the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC), the Chinese Business Institutional Mechanism and Tacit Networks in Chinese Private Investment in Ethiopia’, ASAUK conference, 13th September 2018, University of Birmingham, UK [Unpublished]
  • 'The Dynamics of Chinese Private Investment in Ethiopia: Realities and It's Political Economic Implications towards Ethiopia’s Structural Transformation’, ASAUK conference, 13th September 2018, University of Birmingham, UK [Unpublished]
  • 'The Ethiopian Case Study in Manufacturing for Growth and Development on the Continent’, China-Africa Joint Research & Exchange Seminar, 8th June 2018, The HSRC & The Chinese Embassy in South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa [Published]


  • Royal African Society
  • SOAS Research Students' Association
  • Ethiopian Investment Commission (2017/18)


Weiwei's academic interests include Chinese Small-Medium Enterprises' (SMEs) internationalisation, Chinese Private Foreign Direct Investment (OFDI) in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).