Chinese Resource-for-Infrastructure (RFI) Investments in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Future of the “Rules-Based” Framework for Sovereign Finance: The Sicomines Case Study

China has emerged as sub-Saharan Africa’s largest development financier over the past two decades. While commentators have observed novel, sui generis transactional structures in China’s financing arrangements, legal analysis of those contractual forms and their relationships to incumbent international economic governance regimes remains scant. This note addresses those scholarly lacunae, taking as its case study the 2008 Sicomines Agreement—a multi-billion USD investment financing agreement between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and various Chinese corporate entities that merges infrastructure investment with a mineral extraction joint-venture project. It demonstrates that the Sicomines Agreement selectively draws on and integrates pre-existing modes of sovereign development finance, but in ways that subvert the extant legal and customary frameworks those modes have depended on. Legal issues arising under the Sicomines Agreement fall under two analytical categories: (1) areas of the Sicomines Agreement that the extant, “rules-based” framework governing sovereign development finance adequately captures; and (2) elements of the transaction that subvert that framework, confounding existing rules. This note concludes by considering what broader implications Chinese-origin development finance may have on the legal regimes and institutions governing the international financial system as a whole.