Current iIssues

China’s Challenge to US Hegemony

The concept of hegemony is a complex and multifaceted one, with different ideologies presenting varying views within the field of International Relations. However, all theories emphasize two crucial aspects: overwhelming material influence and the practice of leadership. While some scholars focus solely on the worldly power of hegemony, most approaches highlight both elements to varying degrees. Therefore, while the leadership aspect of hegemony is the starting point for hegemonic theory, the concept’s root focuses on the leadership purpose that the hegemon needs to establish and maintain a global order.

Economic interests and misunderstandings drive the competition for hegemony between China and the US. Both nations must consider each other’s strategies and policies. China’s modern reforms address the challenges of the past few decades. The old development paradigm is no longer viable environmentally, politically or economically, and the reforms implemented are motivated by the government’s desire to build a more robust economy and address concerns about the Chinese economy’s vulnerability, including weakening labour productivity and labour-intensive exports. This is the primary motivation for the reforms. However, China does not aspire to compete with the US for international hegemony, such as the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. Nevertheless, China is anxious about a power deficit and a need for foreign public assets, such as resources and establishments, to promote universal collaboration. 

Historically, the US-led hegemonic system focused on integrating the country’s military and economic capacities while promoting neoliberal concepts and organizations such as NATO and the Bretton Woods scheme. However, China’s increasing power and capability to shape alternate hegemonic orders are now challenging this structure. The country’s approach remains stable and conservative despite China’s comparative power. Moreover, China is introducing new concepts based on its economic performance, altering the Beijing-style alternate structural networks and free trade concept—for instance, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the OBOR initiative.

It’s worth noting that China’s growing global influence doesn’t necessarily guarantee its position as the world’s primary hegemon. We must address specific questions before considering a new international order. Hegemonic systems can exist without a sole hegemon, as they tend to be relatively stable. Furthermore, China shares the neoliberal ideals that underpin global economic and trade policies, which may indicate a shift towards a system of inter-capitalist competitiveness. While we can’t say for sure whether the world will remain dominated by a single global hegemonic order or develop into a bipolar order between China and the US, it’s clear that both countries will play a significant role in shaping the international economic order and ultimately lead to a balance of power between them.

Tasneem Fadel

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