This study focuses on state–state relations for business, a phenomenon shaped by how local power elites (LPEs), in this case, in Malaysia, collaborate with transnational corporate elites (TCEs), in this case, from China, to implement infrastructure projects linked to the latter's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). These LPE-TCE links, which have led to the creation of novel forms of state–business relations (SBRs), offer interesting theoretical insights for SBR-related studies. This article builds on the conventional wisdom of homogenised SBRs as usually driven by bureaucrats by indicating that, in practice, state–business ties are extremely heterogeneous, with the capture of key institutions by influential LPEs. A conceptual framework explains theoretically how state–state relations, forged by two countries, both led by dominant parties that control their respective enterprises, have contributed to unique SBRs created to undertake BRI projects, driven by LPE-TCE links. Case studies of three BRI projects in Malaysia provide insights into how disparate forms of SBR-based institutional architecture function, not only at the federal level, but also in different states, involving enterprises from China. Diverse types of power relationships have emerged in these joint ventures, encompassing different LPEs, contributing to the creation of dissimilar SBRs. These LPEs have turned effective SBRs, fashioned to implement BRI projects, into economic endeavours that feature rent-seeking behaviour.