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From focus to ambidexterity: the choice of catch-up strategy for EMNEs

Xinmin Peng (School of Business, Ningbo University, Ningbo, China)
Keyi Fang (School of Management, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China)
Martin Lockett (Nottingham University Business School China, University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China)

Cross Cultural & Strategic Management

ISSN: 2059-5794

Article publication date: 12 March 2021

Issue publication date: 29 April 2021




Emerging-market multinational enterprises (EMNEs) can choose focused or ambidextrous strategies to catch up with global market leaders through overseas foreign direct investment (OFDI). The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched by the Chinese government in 2013, had a profound impact on Chinese multinational enterprises’ international behavior. This paper analyses how EMNEs select focused or ambidextrous catch-up strategies before and after the BRI, integrating ambidexterity and catch-up theories to provide a more nuanced understanding of the evolution of EMNE strategy.


A case study is well suited for deriving rich descriptions of empirical phenomena for which little theory exists. Because the existing literature has not yet fully explored and conceptually modeled the influence of windows of opportunity on international catch-up strategies, we use qualitative research to explore the mechanisms of strategy evolution in EMNEs.


The results show that the choice of catch-up strategy is influenced by the nature of windows of opportunity and the firm's accumulated technological capability. Specifically, the opening of institutional windows as a result of the BRI could give significant momentum to the international catch-up process by providing incentives and opportunities for EMNEs to enter more markets and new technology fields. The EMNEs studied underwent a transition from a focused strategy in the catch-up stage to an ambidextrous strategy in the beyond catch-up stage.


These conclusions can not only deepen our understanding of the dynamics of catch-up strategies in the global context but also enrich the research on the ambidexterity of EMNEs, especially in the context of the BRI.



This paper forms part of a special section “The Belt-and-Road Initiative in the New Era of Globalization: Unique Opportunities and Challenges to MNEs”, guest edited by Peter Ping Li, Peter J. Williamson, Abby Jingzi Zhou and Rosalie L. Tung.

The authors are grateful to their anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions. This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant numbers 71772097).


Peng, X., Fang, K. and Lockett, M. (2021), "From focus to ambidexterity: the choice of catch-up strategy for EMNEs", Cross Cultural & Strategic Management, Vol. 28 No. 2, pp. 265-285.



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