This study explores the underlying relationship between acquisition of global legitimacy and the search for technology upgrading by Chinese multinational enterprises (MNEs). Using Huawei’s investment in Russia, Kenya, the United Kingdom and Canada as an in-depth case study, we observe that through corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities in foreign markets and engaging with local community, Chinese MNEs can acquire global legitimacy and gradually catch up with industry leaders. However, the process of global legitimation and innovation continues to evolve. We find that, together with engaging in CSR activities, acquisition of sophisticated knowledge and creation of innovation bring more legitimacy challenges to these firms. Thus, we suggest that Chinese MNEs’ global legitimation and innovation processes are closely coupled and mutually influential, resulting in co-evolution.