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The Constitutive Role of State Structures in Strategic Coupling: On the Formation and Evolution of Sino-German Production Networks in Jieyang, China

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Kean Fan Lim



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Research on the strategic coupling between regions and global lead firms has largely assumed that the regional assets for coupling are ready made and are largely unchanging throughout the coupling process. This article takes this assumption as its critical point of departure and presents a new framework that considers how regional assets are actively (re)configured across multiple scales in ways that could redefine the prevailing mode of strategic coupling. The empirical basis of this framework is derived from a long-term case study on the formation and evolution of Sino-German production networks in environmental goods and services (EGS) in Jieyang, a relatively peripheral city in Guangdong province in China. The analysis draws from thirty-three interviews and seven focus group discussions, conducted between 2014 and 2020, with nonstate and state actors in Jieyang. Findings highlight how Zhongde, a coalition of Jieyang-based firms, transcended the limitations of structural coupling, which exemplifies uneven power relations between regions and lead firms, and attained more balanced coupling relations with German-led EGS global production networks (GPNs) through realigning interests with those of national-level institutions. Responding positively to the structural constraints and opportunities within a Chinese state structure based on experimental governance, Zhongde connected German EGS lead firms to the highly profitable but protected EGS market in China. This ability to jump between scales underscores the cross-scalar and dynamic aspects of strategic coupling: Zhongde was able to meet German-led EGS GPNs’ demand for market access and enhanced localization economies through reconfiguring regional assets. Abstracting from these findings, the article enhances the explanation of the evolution of strategic coupling by conceptualizing its intrinsic dynamism and incorporating state structural effects. Finally, it presents two directions for further research on GPN reconfigurations.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Fu W, Lim KF

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Economic Geography

Year: 2022

Volume: 98

Issue: 1

Pages: 25-48

Print publication date: 01/01/2022

Online publication date: 21/11/2021

Acceptance date: 26/08/2021

Date deposited: 27/11/2021

ISSN (print): 0013-0095

ISSN (electronic): 1944-8287

Publisher: Taylor and Francis


DOI: 10.1080/00130095.2021.1985995


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Funder referenceFunder name
National Natural Science Foundation of China [41871107]
Regional Studies Assciation [Early Career Research Grant].