Chinese firms operating in Africa are often accused of violating international labour standards and not adhering with national labour laws. Considering China’s tendency to maintain control over development projects throughout the entire implementation phase, using Chinese contractors for work performed in the recipient countries, the present paper investigates whether China impacts African labour practices in their capacity as a donor. Specifically, we use a new data material allowing for systematic quantitative analysis of Chinese development finance to investigate whether Chinese development projects affect trade union involvement. Matching geo-referenced data on the subnational allocation of Chinese development projects to Africa over the 2000–2012 period with 41,902 survey respondents across 18 African countries, our estimation strategy relies on comparing the trade union involvement of individuals who live near a site where a Chinese project is being implemented at the time of the interview to those of individuals living near a site where a Chinese project will appear in the future, but where implementation had yet to be initiated at the time of the survey. The results consistently indicate that Chinese development projects – unlike the projects of other major donors – discourage trade union involvement in the local area.