This article aims to fill the void in the literature regarding the sustainable development of public–private partnerships (PPPs) by answering the following research questions: (1) Between 1980 and 2017, what were the PPP-related policy priorities in the three different historical phases of the Chinese national agenda that we have identified herein? (2) Have the PPP-related policies shown a pattern of moving toward sustainable development, and if so, to what extent? Against a criteria framework of evaluating how PPP-related policies could contribute to sustainable development, this article conducted a quantitative bibliometric analysis of 299 PPP-related policy documents issued by the Chinese central government between 1980 and 2017. By visualizing the networks of policy keywords and policy-issuing departments, this article identified the PPP-related policy priorities in the following three distinct historical phases: Phase I (1980–1997), the encouragement of foreign investment in the public infrastructure; Phase II (1998–2008), the encouragement of the marketization of the urban public utilities; and Phase III (2009–2017), the intensive institutionalization and extensive application of PPPs for solving the local debt problem. Corresponding to the abovementioned policy priorities, this article found that the pattern of PPP-related policies has shifted from the total absence of sustainable development policies in Phase I, to a few sustainable development policy attempts in Phase II, and finally, to a tendency toward policies favoring sustainable development in Phase III.
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