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The long-time development of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has sparked debates between scholars who emphasize a state-led approach and those who see decentralized project operations initiated by profit motives. This study bridges this divide by examining the practices of Chinese firms within the BRI, shedding light on state-business relations. Focusing on Kenya, a pivotal maritime BRI location, it explores Chinese state-firm relational dynamics in infrastructure, trade, and manufacturing BRI projects. The findings reveal that Chinese firms in Kenya, private or state-owned, play a partial strategic role. The Chinese state selects activities crucial for establishing a mutually beneficial narrative and guides firms through official visits and awards to build positive reputations. However, firms remain commercially oriented and seek state assistance based on business needs. Private and state- owned Chinese firms in Kenya share a certain level of similarity in accessing state support, both financial and operational.

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