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Klaus E. Meyer, Yuan Ding, Jing Li and Hua Zhang

State-owned (SO) enterprises are subject to more complex institutional pressures in host countries than private firms. These institutional pressures arise from a weak legitimacy of “state ownership” in some countries, which arises from a combination of ideological conflicts, perceived threats to national security, and claimed unfair competitive advantage due to support by the home country government. These institutional pressures directed specifically at SO firms induce them to adapt their foreign entry strategies to reduce potential conflicts and to enhance their legitimacy. Testing hypotheses derived from this theoretical argument for subsidiaries of listed Chinese firms, we find that SO firms adapt mode and control decisions differently from private firms to the conditions in host countries, and these differences are larger where pressures for legitimacy on SO firms are stronger. These findings not only extend institutional theory to better explain differential effects on different entrants to an organizational field, but demonstrate how foreign investors of idiosyncratic origins may proactively build legitimacy in host societies.

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Jing Li, Klaus E. Meyer, Hua Zhang and Yuan Ding

Firms and governments operate in broad networks in which the home government and its diplomatic service are a critical node – or a ‘‘referral point’’ – between firms and potential partners in foreign locations. Thus diplomatic relations between countries matter for the choice of foreign investment location. Using a network perspective, we argue that the extent to which good diplomatic relations induce firms to invest in friendly host countries depends on their political connections to home governments. Those with stronger ties to home governments can better access and leverage intergovernmental diplomatic connections, thus benefiting potentially from enhanced access to information, reduced political risks, and increased legitimacy. Such ability of politically connected firms is more useful where weak institutional impartiality in the host country inhibits neutral treatment of foreign investors. Empirically, using overseas investment location decisions by Chinese firms, we find that the types of home government ties (i.e., whether they are organizational or personal and whether those relationships are with central or local governments) and the impartiality of host institutions are both important contingencies affecting firms’ utilization of diplomatic relations. We discuss the implications of our study to research on network theory, political ties, and internationalization of emerging market firms.