China is becoming a powerful player in international development, in part because of its growing global investments in resource extraction and infrastructure. The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), China’s largest oil company and a pioneer of Chinese outward foreign direct investing, has become involved in the kinds of global environmental and social controversies historically associated with Western resource firms. Although Western companies tend to address problems through international processes such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which involve engagement with multiple stakeholders including civil society, China’s culture of strong government control suggests the State would exert the strongest influence over CNPC’s corporate performance abroad. Yet in an era of reform and globalization, the company acts independently of the Chinese government. On occasion, it has addressed environmental and social controversies it encounters abroad through engaging with international and host country non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and communities, a practice that is largely alien to Chinese companies operating domestically. In Peru, CNPC revised an oil project after engaging in dialogue with Peruvian civil society.
This research focused on two oil blocks located in the eastern jungle province of Madre de Dios, which SAPET, the Peruvian subsidiary of CNPC, bought at the end of 2005. Soon after, the company revised the project in order to respect a territorial reserve for indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. This move was welcomed by a local indigenous federation and environmental NGOs, but was staunchly opposed by the government of Peru. I interviewed NGOs, community members, company representatives and government officials to understand how dialogue between the Peruvian NGOs and CNPC developed and how civil society sought to influence the company. I investigated how the Peruvian NGOs and communities nearest the project site compared their interactions with CNPC to those with other foreign oil companies investing in the region.
Keywords: Chinese overseas investments, civil society, NGOs, indigenous peoples, international development, natural resources, oil.