The dynamic growth of many Southeast Asian countries in recent years has created a centrifugal force prompting the internationalization of established ethnic Chinese business firms in these countries. This paper aims to examine the strategies and processes of this internationalization and to assess the firms’ competitive advantage in the regional and global economies. It argues that the internationalization of ethnic Chinese business firms from Southeast Asia can be explained by their firm‐specific strategies and the changing geographical contexts in which they are embedded and their strategies are implemented. First, these firms face increasing competition at a global scale and are compelled to engage in transnational operations as a strategy to sustain growth and expansion. Second, changing institutional contexts in home and host countries provide another key impetus to their transnational drive. While they begin to realize the limits to growth in their home countries because of growing foreign competition and ethnicity‐based economic policies, these Chinese business firms are more sensitive to growth opportunities elsewhere in the Asia Pacific region and beyond. As such, a comprehensive explanation of their transnational activities needs to examine both the changing configurations of operating contexts and their strategies of global competition. To support its main claims, the paper presents some detailed case studies of ethnic Chinese‐controlled transnational corporations based in Southeast Asia.