Much attention has been paid world-wide to the advancement of policy with regard to public–private partnerships (PPPs). Though PPPs continue to play a major role in the development of China’s national economy, capital projects and infrastructure upgrade, little work has been done to understand the evolution of Chinese governmental policy with regard to PPPs. This paper addresses this lack and sets out the trajectory of Chinese PPP policy maturation over the period of 1986 to 2018. Policy documents were retrieved from official government websites, such as the Ministry of Finance and National Development and Reform Commission, with some 205 policy statements deemed relevant to PPPs. These were then classified by type and submitted to regression analysis. Five major instruments in support of PPPs were identified, including fiscal, financial, taxation, land and operations support. Moreover, four historical policy phases can be identified in the Chinese PPP market, including ‘try’, ‘explore’, ‘expand’ and ‘consolidate’. While governmental policy may now be considered sophisticated, deficiencies remain, including insufficient policy coordination between departments, lack of financial incentives and poor transparency and disclosure supervision. These observations will inform policy makers as they look to continue advancement of PPP policy measures, and help practitioners in assessing the pitfalls of operating in the Chinese PPP market.
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