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The Political-Military Foundations of China’s Global Ascendency



In recent years China has positioned itself as a global economic leader, working through its “Belt and Road” initiative (BRI) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), to not only expand its global economic reach, but to organize and lead global economic relations. China’s rise is largely understood in economic terms, but the history of global power dynamics suggests that such leadership is built on both economic and political-military foundations. This paper explores the structural relationship between China’s economic and political-military relationships with other states over the period 1993 to 2015. Drawing on a wide variety of data sources, we present a multi-dimensional analysis that measures the changing size of China’s economic and political-military networks, their shifting regional distribution, and the degree of coupling, or decoupling of economic ties from political-military ties. In describing these patterns, we conduct a similar analysis for the United States. This allows us to situate Chinese trends in the context of the structures of U.S. global power. Our analysis points to ways in which China’s global rise has been shaped through navigating U.S. global power. Our analysis also shows that China’s growing leadership in the global economy builds upon a set of existing political-military relationships that, while their scope and form are quite different from those that the United States built to support its hegemonic ascendency, are nevertheless critical for understanding the mechanisms by which Chinese power and influence has grown in the global political economy.
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The Political-Military Foundations of China’s Global Ascendency
Aaron Major
University at Albany - SUNY
Zhifan Luo
University at Albany - SUNY
In recent years China has positioned itself as a global economic leader, working through its “Belt and Road”
initiative (BRI) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), to not only expand its global economic reach, but
to organize and lead global economic relations. China’s rise is largely understood in economic terms, but the history
of global power dynamics suggests that such leadership is built on both economic and political-military foundations.
This paper explores the structural relationship between China’s economic and political-military relationships with
other states over the period 1993 to 2015. Drawing on a wide variety of data sources, we present a multi-
dimensional analysis that measures the changing size of China’s economic and political-military networks, their
shifting regional distribution, and the degree of coupling, or decoupling of economic ties from political-military
ties. In describing these patterns, we conduct a similar analysis for the United States. This allows us to situate
Chinese trends in the context of the structures of U.S. global power. Our analysis points to ways in which China’s
global rise has been shaped through navigating U.S. global power. Our analysis also shows that China’s growing
leadership in the global economy builds upon a set of existing political-military relationships that, while their scope
and form are quite different from those that the United States built to support its hegemonic ascendency, are
nevertheless critical for understanding the mechanisms by which Chinese power and influence has grown in the
global political economy.
Keywords: China, Hegemonic Transition, Political-Military
ISSN: 1076-156X | Vol. 25 Issue 2 | DOI 10.5195/JWSR.2019.874 |
Journal of World-Systems Research | Vol. 25 Issue 2 | Foundations of China’s Global Ascendency | DOI 10.5195/JWSR.2019.874
Militarism and imperialism have returned to the fore in the scholarly debate over China’s rise as a
global power. In the second edition of The Long Twentieth Century, Giovanni Arrighi (2010)
hypothesized that the next era of hegemony would be of a different form, marked by the decoupling
of the economic and military foundations of hegemonic power itself. China would become the
center of world economic strength while the United States remained the dominant political-
military power.
Arrighi is certainly not alone in drawing attention to China’s rising economic power over the
last decade, and China’s pursuit of the so-called “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) lends support to
the view that China is moving into a leadership position in the global political economy. Through
heavy investments in infrastructure, the BRI seeks to closely connect the two ends of Eurasia,
Africa and Oceania via an overland and maritime trade and investment route. So far, 65 countries
have signed on to the BRI with planned expenditures ranging from $1 trillion to $8 trillion
(Hillman 2018). The BRI has not only played an important economic role in upgrading Chinese
industry and encouraging the acceptance of Chinese technological standards but is also part of a
larger policy designed to expand China’s geopolitical influence (Cai 2017; Eder 2018). To further
support these aims, China has launched a multilateral development bank, the Asian Infrastructure
Investment Bank (AIIB), aimed to finance growing infrastructural needs in Asia. What is notable
about the AIIB is that its creation was partly driven by China’s frustration with the existing
international financial institutions. By July 2018, the AIIB has 87 approved members around the
world and has approved over $5 billion of loans with 28 projects in 13 Asian countries, much of
which go to the energy and transportation sectors (Dollar 2015; Wade 2016).
The rapid success, massive scope, and multilateral “buy-in” of the BRI and AIIB have
reinforced a narrative of China’s global ascendency that focuses on trade and investment. What
these economic-centered accounts miss is China’s increasing military capacity and the relationship
between the Chinese state’s global political-military activities and this economic expansion. In
1990, Chinese military expenditures were the 11th highest in the world. Since 2012, China’s
military expenditures have been second only to those of the United States. In 2015 China’s State
Council issued its first defense blueprint, which highlighted the possibility of direct military
conflict with the United States, and called for modernization of China’s defense forces.1 Since
then, analysts have focused on China’s rapid military-build up, much of which is focused on
projecting power regionally and defending interests in the South China Sea.2 Globally, China has
1 “China’s Military Strategy (2015)”, State Council Information Office, People’s Republic of China, May 2015, 27
2 For recent analyses see: Oriana Skylar Mastro, “Three things to know about China’s military strategy,” AEIdeas,
12/14/2017, military-strategy/; Jonathan Marcus,
Journal of World-Systems Research | Vol. 25 Issue 2 | Major and Luo | DOI 10.5195/JWSR.2019.874
become among the world’s top arms exporters3 and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has
become more proactive in deploying its military forces abroad in the service of UN peacekeeping
China’s rise as a global military power has drawn some attention, but it remains limited,
focusing too heavily on the recent build-up of hard military capabilities and regional conflicts. Our
goal in this paper is to bring China’s global political-military engagement to bear on a historical
and structural analysis of China’s global economic expansion over the last twenty-five years. We
bring together data on trade flows, foreign direct investment (FDI), oil imports, economic aid, arms
exports, military diplomacy, and military deployments from 1993 to 2015 in order to map the
regional configuration of these relationships and the connections between economic and political-
military ties. Through this analysis, we aim to contribute to the current discussion of China’s
changing role in the global political economy in two respects. First, by systematically mapping the
multiple dimensions of China’s global political-military expansion, we provide a more
comprehensive, and nuanced, picture of this global expansion. Second, we contextualize recent
and region-specific military expansion within longer-term, global trends that highlight the
importance of ‘softer’ forms of political-military engagement that have been crucial for supporting
China’s ascendency. We conduct a similar analysis for the United States, both as a means for
providing a point of reference for our China-specific data and because China’s role in the global
economy can not be fully understood without a clear understanding of the shifting structures of
U.S. global hegemony.
Militarism and Hegemony: Lessons from the United States
The role of militarism in the arc of hegemonic orders remains disputed among political
economists. Gramsci’s argument that hegemony rests on the political and cultural production of
consent informs many of the key texts analyzing the rise and fall of global hegemonic powers
(Arrighi 1994; Cox 1987; Gill 2008). From this standpoint, hegemony is poorly served by outright
military aggression; militarism seeks domination by force when the creation of consent has failed.
Michael Mann (2003) thus argues that the aggressive militarism pursued by the United States over
the last fifteen years is a clear signal that the postwar hegemon is in decline.
“The ‘globalisation’ of China’s military power,’ BBC News, 2/13/2018,
3 Data from the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database.
4 Gill, Bates and Chin-Hao Huang, “China’s Expanding Role in Peacekeeping,” SIPRI Policy Paper 25, November
2009, p. 1.
Journal of World-Systems Research | Vol. 25 Issue 2 | Foundations of China’s Global Ascendency | DOI 10.5195/JWSR.2019.874
Others have argued that the political and cultural practices that reproduce hegemonic power
have always relied on imperial militarism. This line of argument can be traced to the classic works
on imperialism, including those of Hobson, Lenin, and Luxemburg who observed that Europe’s
colonial and imperial projects of the 18th and 19th centuries rescued national capitalism from their
crises of accumulation, reproduction, and expansion. Contemporary scholars working in this vein
remind us that U.S. economic supremacy after World War II was built upon a military bulwark in
Western Europe and a massive infusion of military assistance to friendly (i.e. conservative)
governments that not only kept the Soviet empire in check, but also subverted left-wing trade
unions by promoting U.S.-style labor-management practices. U.S. state officials hoped that these
interventions into the domestic political economy would boost productivity and the
competitiveness of European exports, thus aiding the return to free trade (Block 1977; Cox 1987;
Gill and Law 1989; Gowan 2003; Maier 1988; Van der Pijl 1984).
Panitch and Ginden (2005) make a similar argument, focusing on the militaristic face of the
“informal empire” of the United States, which revealed itself more as clandestine military
operations and support to client states than outright warfare. Similarly, Julian Go (2012) has
recently challenged the ‘American exceptionalism’ thesis downplaying the role of militarism and
empire in the construction of U.S. postwar hegemony. He argues that while U.S. imperialism may
not have taken the colonial form that British imperialism did, the United States’ ascendancy as a
hegemon in the postwar period was built upon a new set of imperialistic practices more suitable
for a global order defined by independent nation-states rather than politically unrecognized
territories. Rather than conquering, and then managing, colonies, the United States supported
national independence movements and then used informal imperialistic techniques—financial,
military, and advisory aid—to shore up friendly political regimes.
This disagreement over the role of militarism in the construction of U.S. postwar hegemony
carries over into the current debate over the current state of U.S. global power. Somewhere
between the Vietnam War and the early 1990s, the neat coupling of economic dominance and
informal empire began to break down. Arrighi (2010), argues that the decoupling of global political
power from global economic power, signaled by the collapse of Bretton Woods and failure in
Vietnam, marked the beginning of the end of U.S. hegemony. Other scholars have followed suit,
suggesting that the United States has tried to compensate for its declining economic hegemony
with a new form of aggressive militarism. Even as the United States scaled back its Cold War
defense structure in the 1990s, it became much more aggressive in deploying those forces,
committing to two wars in the Middle East in the early 2000s. Some read this new militarism as a
cry of desperation from American political and economic elites seeking to maintain the informal
empire of the United States as its economic and cultural foundation crumbles (Mann 2003; Go
Journal of World-Systems Research | Vol. 25 Issue 2 | Major and Luo | DOI 10.5195/JWSR.2019.874
Not all agree, however, that this more aggressive militarism necessarily means hegemonic
decline. Ho-fung Hung (2014, 2015) argues that China’s quick rise in the world economy has,
somewhat counterintuitively, slowed the erosion of U.S. global power. By purchasing U.S.
Treasuries on a massive scale, China has tied its own fortunes to the U.S.-led economic system.
Panitch and Ginden (2005) have suggested that this new militarism is laying the groundwork for a
re-situating of U.S. hegemony on a neoliberal footing.
Two key points emerge from this brief overview of the debates around U.S. hegemonic rise
and decline. First, in order to fully appreciate the importance of militarism to hegemonic orders,
militarism should be understood broadly. Second, the forms that militarism takes, and the
relationship between the political-military and economic bases of global power, are specific to
each historical era. Both points inform our research design and analysis, explicated below.
Research Design
Our research design aims to describe recent historical dynamics in the global, structural
character of China’s economic and political-military relationships with other states. This approach
is inspired by Peter Gowan’s (2003) description of U.S. postwar hegemony as built upon a “hub
and spokes” system of militaristic relationships with key allies that served as the framing for U.S.
global economic expansion. We find this account useful for two reasons. First, it highlights the
often overlooked, yet critical, point that a hegemon’s rise as a global power is structured by a
specific geography. The sun may have never set on the British Empire, but the actual geographical
footprint that served as the foundation for British hegemony consisted largely of a ribbon of
territories through the center of the Middle East and the African Continent, a massive colony in
South Asia, and several islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific. U.S. hegemony was anchored by
Western Europe and East and Southeast Asia (mostly Japan) along with repeated interventions into
South America. Second, Gowan inverts the relationship between economic and military power that
one typically finds in accounts of U.S. hegemony. In the typical account, the United States
established economic dominance and then maintained that dominance with military intervention.
Gowan instead shows that the postwar military framework was the foundation for both economic
expansion and military intervention. In this way, Gowan’s account brings political-military
practices to the forefront of the analysis of global power.
Following methods employed by scholars working in the World Systems and World Polity
perspectives, we map the structural ties between states through social network analysis. A core
tenet of the World Polity research framework is that states and other organizations have become
densely organized by their ties to international governmental and non-governmental organizations.
These international organizations powerfully shape the policies, practices, and institutional forms
of states, private firms, and other organizations, underscoring the importance of globalization for
Journal of World-Systems Research | Vol. 25 Issue 2 | Foundations of China’s Global Ascendency | DOI 10.5195/JWSR.2019.874
understanding, among other things, domestic politics. Critically for our paper, it has also generated
a large body of research using the tools of social network analysis to visualize, and operationalize
these global mechanisms. From our perspective, a significant limitation of the world polity
perspective is that it tends to envision the global political economy as a very flat, even space, a
two-dimensional network of international organizations and national states, each holding equal
weight in the composition of the larger structure through which different interests and practices
are homogenized (Meyer et al. 1997; Robertson and Lechner 1985). Our understanding of the
structure of the global system is much closer to that of Jason Beckfield (2003; 2008) who, in using
the same network analytic tools as other world polity scholars, paints a picture of a global society
that is fragmented with centers of concentrated power and influence. While Beckfield’s work
provides useful analytical strategies for using the tools of network analysis to trace global
structures of power, it draws exclusively upon state membership in international organizations and
thus does not capture the critical political and economic factors that make up the global order.
World-Systems theorists have long held that states are located in a global structure of
dominance and subordination, but relatively few scholars working in this vein have sought to
measure the shape, and impact, of this structure in a similarly systematic way. In an early paper,
Snyder and Kick (1979) attempted to empirically locate a state’s position in the world system
through block-model analysis. Block-model analysis attempts to group individuals (the “blocks”)
by looking for similar patterns of interactions between individuals across multiple dimensions.
Snyder and Kick’s analysis was built on four networks of interaction between states in the 1960s:
trade, military interventions, exchange of diplomats, and treaties. Van Rossem conducted a similar
(1996) study, looking at trade, diplomatic ties, arms transfers and presence of foreign troops. Kick
and Davis (2001) extended Snyder and Kick’s earlier analysis by looking at change across two
periods (the 1960s and the 1970s) and by increasing the number of bilateral networks in the
analysis from four to eight: trade, four distinct types of treaty, arms transfers, political conflicts,
and military conflicts. Within the larger body of world-systems research, these studies are notable
for the fact that, among the handful of studies using the tools of social network analysis to
empirically locate countries within the world system, they are the few that use non-economic (i.e.,
political and military) dimensions of interaction in addition to economic ones (for a review, see
Lloyd, Mahutga and Leeuw 2009).
We build on this body of research by developing a multidimensional analysis of the global
economic and political-military relationships of the United States and China. Our analysis
improves on similar research in three ways. First, we expand the analysis of economic ties to
include FDI and oil imports in addition to overall trade. As noted above, access to oil has been
described as a key driver of both U.S. and Chinese foreign policy agendas (Mann 2003; Zhang
2011; Kennedy 2011). Second, our findings are much more current than those of Snyder and Kick,
Journal of World-Systems Research | Vol. 25 Issue 2 | Major and Luo | DOI 10.5195/JWSR.2019.874
who look at the period 1955-1970, Kick and Davis, who look at the period 1960-1975, and Van
Rossem, who looks at the period 1980-1989. Our period of study, 1993 to 2015, both captures the
era that many describe as one of U.S. hegemonic decline and Chinese hegemonic rise. Our longer
time series also gives us a greater capacity to analyze change over time. Third, and finally, our
analytic strategy is not confined by the World Systems analytical framework whereby states are
placed into a parsimonious set of hierarchical categories (core, periphery, and semi-periphery in
standard models) which are then used to explain some outcome. Rather than aggregating all of our
measures of economic and military ties as World Systems scholars tend to do, our aim is to
examine the relationships between these variables and, in so doing, come to a clearer
understanding of when, where, and how different forms of economic and political-military ties are
Data. Our theory-driven research ambitions are tempered by practical considerations,
specifically the availability of robust, consistent time-series data across a range of economic and
political-military dimensions. We measure economic ties as: (1) exports of all goods; (2) imports
of refined and unrefined oil; and (3) FDI outflows. We measure political-military ties as: (1)
deployment of troops abroad, (2) arms exports, (3) economic development aid, and (4) military
For overall exports and oil imports, we use the U.N. Comtrade data to measure the value of
all goods exported from China to partner countries and the value of oil imported (both crude and
refined5) by China from partner countries. Data for Chinese FDI outflows for the years 1993 to
2002 comes from the National Bureau of Statistics (1992-2003). Data for 2003 to 2015 comes
from Statistical Bulletin of China's Outward FDI, published annually on the website of Ministry
of Commerce of China.6
We use the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) data on arms transfers
to measure bilateral arms exports. We measure the total value of all weapons types exported from
China to foreign governments. Our measure of deployment of troops abroad combines information
from two data sources. The International Institute for Strategic Studies’ The Military Balance
provides detailed information on the number, type, and location of forces deployed abroad on an
annual basis. We note a “deployment” as any stationing of military troops or equipment in another
country or participation in a U.N. or other multilateral peacekeeping operation. One limitation of
the IISS data is that it does not record military conflicts as a deployment, which understates the
5 We sum the values for commodity codes 2709 and 2710, “Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous
minerals” crude and not crude.
Journal of World-Systems Research | Vol. 25 Issue 2 | Foundations of China’s Global Ascendency | DOI 10.5195/JWSR.2019.874
use of hard military force abroad. In order to overcome this deficiency, we combine the IISS data
with data from the Militarized Interstate Disputes dataset (Palmer et al. 2015). This dataset
includes all cases of inter-state conflict involving the threat of, or actual use of, military force up
through 2010. We include all cases of hostility that involve display of force use of force, and war
where the United States or China was on the instigating side of the conflict.
Data on Chinese economic aid comes from AidData's “Global Chinese Official Finance
Dataset, 2000-2014.” Based out of William & Mary University, this is the most comprehensive
dataset of officially-financed Chinese development projects. China does not subscribe to the
development aid reporting norms laid out by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee to
distinguish Official Development Assistance (ODA) from other kinds of assistance. As such, we
limit our analysis to those transactions that AidData classifies as “ODA-like”, which must meet
three criteria: be primarily oriented towards the economic development of, or social welfare in,
recipient states; by be financed through an official Chinese State agency (which can include State
Owned Enterprises); and, third, have a financing content that is at least 25% in the form of a grant.7
Finally, we explore patterns in Chinese state military diplomacy, which includes high-level
military visits from PLA officials to foreign military officials, joint military exercises, and military
‘ports of call’ (Allen, Saunders, and Chen, 2017).
The ongoing debate over the question of U.S. hegemonic decline and Chinese hegemonic
ascendency hinges in large part on how one views the relationship between these states’ economic
and political-military ties with other states and regions of the world. Contributing to these
discussions thus requires a method of evaluating these relationships between economic and
political-military ties. To that end, we calculate the Jaccard Index for each our strong economic
networks relative to each political-military network in each year.
The Jaccard Index divides the number of items shared between two sets (their intersection)
by the total number of unique items across two sets (their union). In this case, the sets are the
countries that make up the United States and China’s economic and political-military networks.
Values fall between 0 and 1, with 1 indicating that two sets are identical.8 Though simple, this
7 Alex Dreher et. al., “Apples and Dragon Fruits: The Determinants of Aid and Other Forms of State Financing from
China to Africa,” Working Paper #15, AidData, October (2015): 10.
8 For example, suppose two (hypothetical) sets of countries, set A representing the countries from which the United
States imports toys, and set B representing the countries to which the United States exports cars:
A: China, Germany, India, Japan, Malaysia
B: Canada, China, France, Hungary, Kenya, India, Malaysia, Russia, Taiwan, United Kingdom
The union between these two sets is three countries: China, India, Malaysia. The intersection of these two sets is
twelve countries: Canada, China, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Russia, Taiwan, United
Journal of World-Systems Research | Vol. 25 Issue 2 | Major and Luo | DOI 10.5195/JWSR.2019.874
measure allows us measure the degree of similarity between two networks and to make
comparisons across different networks that are easy to interpret as they change over time. One
limitation of this measure is its sensitivity to the size of the two sets being compared. If one set is
significantly larger than the other, then the Jaccard Index will necessarily be closer to zero since
the relatively small size of one set will limit the intersection of the two sets while the relatively
large size of the other will create a larger union between the two sets. Given this, the Jaccard Index
needs to be interpreted with respect to the sizes of the two sets being compared. In addition, the
Jaccard Index treats all members of a set equally, obscuring the importance of key, strategic
partners in hegemonic orders.
We base our analysis on what we call the ‘strong network’ of U.S. and Chinese economic and
military ties. For all economic ties we consider a country as part of the strong network in each year
if the value of the economic transaction is in the top half of all partner countries. For arms exports
and troop deployments, we include all countries that have any relationship with the United States
or China. For U.S. economic and military aid, the availability of precise monetary values for each
transaction allows us to limit the ‘strong network’ to the top half of recipients. For China, the lack
of consistent monetary values for economic aid prevents us from using this strategy. Absent
another sorting criterion, we include all aid recipients in the strong network. Similarly, we include
all countries that have participated in some form of Chinese military diplomacy in the strong
network of this measure. The strong network is thus a network of unweighted, ‘dummy’ ties. Once
a tie meets the threshold of being ‘strong,’ it is equal to all other ties in our analysis. We believe
that these procedures achieve a good balance between analytical precision and consistency across
our dimensions of economic and military ties.
Finally, working across a variety of data sources presented the challenge of developing a
consistent set of countries across our entire period of study. Some countries became independent
after our period of study began, and other countries dropped out of our data set during the period
of study. We addressed these issues using the following strategies: First, we only include data for
countries that were fully independent over the entire period of study. Countries that gained
independence after 1993 are aggregated with their pre-independence country.9 Second, countries
that were listed as part of a larger group of countries for one or more years by one data source were
grouped for all data sources across the entire time period. We also grouped several British Overseas
Kingdom. The Jaccard Index of these two sets is 3 divided by 12 or .25. Simply read, it tells us that 25% of the
countries that make up both networks are shared between the two.
9 This includes territories like Greenland and the Faroe Islands, both part of the Kingdom of Denmark; New Caledonia,
St. Pierre and Miquellon, and Wallis and Fatuna, all French overseas territories; Tokelau and the Cook Islands, both
territories of New Zealand; Gibraltar, the foreign affairs of which is handled by the U.K.
Journal of World-Systems Research | Vol. 25 Issue 2 | Foundations of China’s Global Ascendency | DOI 10.5195/JWSR.2019.874
Territories in the Caribbean together (Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands,
and Montserrat). While politically distinct, these territories serve as offshore financial centers, the
impact of which could be diluted if FDI inflows were counted separately. These procedures left us
with a consistent set of 189 distinct political units for our period under study.
Our analysis is developed in two major sections. First, we describe the basic structural
character of China’s economic and political-military networks in the context of the global
economic and political-military position of the United States. Here we focus on the changing size
of each network, the degree of similarity between economic and political-military ties, and how
they change over time. In the second section probe more deeply into this macro-structural picture
to show how China has used policy-military relationships to expand its global influence.
Specifically, we draw attention to the tight coupling of Chinese political-military and economic
ties in Sub-Saharan Africa, the subtle deployment of the PLA’s military force around the world,
and the way in which the network of countries that make up the Belt and Road Initiative and the
Asian Infrastructure Investment Bankboth projects that will likely increase China’s global
economic influence—have been built on previously-established political-military ties.
Political-military dimensions of China’s Global Expansion
The last twenty-five years have seen the dramatic expansion of China’s presence in the global
economy and in foreign affairs. By the early 1990s China had already established itself as a global
export power. Since then, China has steadily, and substantially, expanded its global economic
influence by engaging in foreign direct investment activities with more and more partner countries,
and by widening the network of countries from which it imports much needed oil. While these
trends have been well-documented and form the core of the narrative of China’s growing global
influence, China’s expanding political-military activities around the world, as shown in Table 1,
below, are an equally critical dimension of this process.
Since 2000, China has increasingly deployed its military forces abroad and has established
more and more arms trade relationships. Between 1999 and 2010, China went from having fewer
than ten arms export partners to more than twenty. In 2015, China was the third largest exporter
of conventional weapons. This expansion in the ‘harder’ forms of militarism has been exceeded
by an even more rapid expansion of ‘softer’ forms of political-military engagement. Chinese
economic development aid expanded rapidly with the number of countries receiving some kind of
development assistance nearly doubling from 47 in 2000 to 82 in 2009. This same period is also
marked by the PLAs extensive engagement in military diplomacy. While systematic data on these
activities is only available for the years 2003 and forward, researchers who study this see this level
of activity with a large number of partner countries as marking a significant expansion the PLAs
international engagement when compared to earlier decades.
Journal of World-Systems Research | Vol. 25 Issue 2 | Major and Luo | DOI 10.5195/JWSR.2019.874
Table 1: Total Size of Economic and Political-Military Networks, 1993-2015 ("key years"
of significant change in network size highlighted)
China’s global economic and political-military activities have not only grown, they have
become increasingly coupled. Key trade, foreign investment and oil import partners are also
increasingly partners in one, or more, political-military relationship. Table 2a shows the Jaccard
Index measuring the degree of similarity between each strong economic network and our political-
military ties, highlighting values in years where there was a significant expansion in the size of a
Journal of World-Systems Research | Vol. 25 Issue 2 | Foundations of China’s Global Ascendency | DOI 10.5195/JWSR.2019.874
political-military network. The general picture that emerges from that table is that over the period
1993 to 2015 the countries with whom China maintains a strong economic partnership are also
increasingly those with whom there is a political-military relationship. The table also shows that,
in many cases, that coupling became especially strong during those periods when China expanded
its global political military activities.
The growing connection between arms exports and commercial exports is perhaps to be
expected: the relationships that sustain commercial trade are often useful in supporting arms trade,
and the already-broad scale of Chinese commercial trade means that any increase in the arms trade
is more likely to overlap with existing trade partners. The steadily strengthening connection
between China’s arms trade and its FDI and oil import networks can not be so easily explained.
What is important to note here is that the period 2005 to 2010 where we show a strengthening
connection between these networks was one where the size of China’s arms exports, FDI and oil
import networks were all expanding. Given this, a strengthening of these relationships suggests
that not only were new arms export partners those who were already strong investment and oil
important partners, but also that many of these new investment and oil import relationships were
built upon a pre-existing arms export relationship.
China has also made good use of the “soft” influences of economic development aid and
military diplomacy to support its global economic activities on a wider scale. While our data for
these two measures is limited to the early 2000s and forward, we can still see that as China
expanded its economic development aid to more and more countries with already-established oil
import relationships. Economic aid also becomes increasingly connected to foreign investment.
China’s extensive military diplomacy activities around shows that they appear to be driven more
by the need to secure foreign investment outlets than the need to secure energy supplies. Between
2005 and 2010, a period when both networks undergo a significant expansion, the relationship
between military diplomacy and FDI and military diplomacy and oil imports strengthens, but the
connection to FDI is much stronger.
While these general trends are significant, they can obscure the way that military diplomacy
functions as a somewhat unique tool for expanding China’s global influence. Table 1 shows a
sharp increase in the number of countries participating in PLA military diplomatic activities from
2009 to 2010, which also manifests as a significant increase in the Jaccard Index between the
military diplomacy network and the FDI and oil import networks. This phenomenon highlights
the unique way in which military diplomacy has been used as a political-military tool. This
punctuated increase the Jaccard Indices is entirely to a surge in visits abroad by PLA officials,
from 172 such visits in 2009, to 202 visits in 2010, and then back down to 154 visits in 2011.
These additional visits were almost entirely made to economic partners in sub-Saharan Africa,
North Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America where, as we already saw, China had already
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been expanding its foreign investments and supplies of oil. Military diplomacy’s short-term
character allows it to be used flexibly to serve specific geopolitical goals at critical moments.
Table 2a: Jaccard Index, Economic and Political-Military networks (China, 1993 - 2015.
"Key years of political-military network growth highlighted)
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China’s Rise in the Context of U.S. Global Hegemony
In order to properly understand China’s expanding global, political-military presence and the
deepening relationship between China’s global economic and political-military ties, these trends
need to be situated in a context where the United States has expanded its own political-military
activities around the world and deepened the already dense relationship between its own economic
and political-military ties. While China’s network of economic ties now approximates the scale of
that of the United States, the latter has also been expanding its political-military activities around
the world on a scale that, on most comparable measures, dwarf those of China.
U.S. hegemony was built, and maintained, through a global projection of military force. This
manifests both as a global network of military bases and troop deployments and as a global ‘strike
capacity’ whereby U.S. militar forces are staffed and equipped to have the ability to defend the
homeland, conduct counter-terrorism operations, and simultaneously engage in multiple military
operations anywhere in the world (Department of Defense 2014).
The militaristic turn in U.S. foreign policy of the last three decades is clearly seen by the rapid
growth in the number of countries within which the U.S. military deploys its troops or stations
military hardware, both on an on-going basis and as a result of direct military conflicts. At the
same time, this more expansive use of aggressive military force has been accompanied by a
significant expansion in the more subtle forms of political-military engagement. The number of
countries receiving U.S. economic development aid grew steadily, and significantly, between 2000
and 2010. Between 2005 and 2010 the United States began to export arms to a growing number of
countries and began to distribute military aid on a wider scale.
The general pattern that emerges from Table 2b shows that the expansion of U.S. political-
military engagement, which largely took place over the course of the 2000s, was in countries where
the United States also had a strong economic ties. This has had the general effect of strengthening,
rather than weakening, the overall relationship between the global economic and political-military
networks of the United States. The years of rapid political-military expansion in the late 1990s and
early 2000s forged more political-military ties with the major export partners of the United States
and, to a somewhat lesser degree, with major FDI and oil import partners. The increased
deployment of U.S. troops abroad in the late 1990s and 2000s and the extension of U.S. military
aid to more countries in the 2000s did correlate with U.S. oil interests, but not its major foreign
investment partners. On the other hand, many of the new arms export relationships that were
created in the late 2000s were major FDI partners, but were not major sources of U.S. oil imports.
Journal of World-Systems Research | Vol. 25 Issue 2 | Major and Luo | DOI 10.5195/JWSR.2019.874
Table 2b: Jaccard Index, Economic and Political-Military networks US, 1993 - 2015.
Key years of political-military network growth highlighted
Taken as a whole, these findings belie the straightforward ‘decoupling’ narrative of U.S.
hegemonic decline. Specifically, it suggests that the structures of U.S. global hegemony—the
joining of economic and political-military power power upon which that hegemony was built in
the postwar periodremains basically intact. We do not see the fracturing of U.S. global
economic interests and global political-military activities that some accounts of U.S. hegemonic
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decline expect us to see. These findings also help to more clearly define the global context of U.S.
hegemony within which China’s own economic and political-military expansion has taken place.
China’s expanding global economic and political-military activities, and the coupling of these two
sets of relationships are still both relatively small when compared to the massive, and densely over-
laid economic and political-military relationships of the United States around the world. This
suggests that if we want to locate the processes by which China’s global influence has increased,
we need to look in the smaller cracks and weaknesses in the global, structural footprint of the
United States. Below we focus on three such examples: China’s growing leadership role in
transnational military activities; China’s growing economic and political-military presence on the
African continent, and the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative with the related formation of of
the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
The Subtle Expansion of China’s Military Influence. The U.S. may still wield
overwhelming military force, but has been unable to use that force effectively in recent decades to
bring states together under its hegemonic umbrella. This a reflection of two related developments.
One the one hand, any aspects of state power have been transnationalized and located in powerful
transnational, inter-governmental bodies including, as Martin Shaw (1997) argues, the state’s
means of military force. The Cold War military power was organized into transnational military
alliances, like NATO and the U.N., which now serve as the organizational framework of what
Shaw describes as a “worldwide web of authoritative relations” (2000: 193). This process has
altered the terrain on which hegemonic power is built. To be successful the next hegemon’s global
political-military practices will likely need to cultivate and mold the global state in a way that
supports its global economic power.
This points to the second key development. U.S. militarism has increasingly eschewed these
transnational military bodies, opting instead for a “go it alone” approach in many instances. China,
on the other hand, has increasingly embraced transnational military cooperation. A key example
of this is the fact that China now often plays a leadership role within UN Peacekeeping operations,
contributing more troops and police than any of the other five Security Council members to UN
peacekeeping missions, and now serving as the second largest financial contributor to UN
peacekeeping operations. This points to China’s willingness and desire to be a visible, global,
political-military leader (Allen, Saunders and Chen 2017).
Thus, while U.S. militarism remains deeply bound up with its massive web of military bases
around the world and a strategic posture that demands a military capacity to intervene anywhere
around the world unilaterally, China’s military deployments have been much more limited. On the
one hand, China flexes its military muscle in and around the South China Sea, but it is military
deployments to the Middle East and the African continent that predominate the distribution of
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China’s ‘hard’ military engagements. This is consistent with the general distribution of Chinese
military deployments after 2000.
The PLA’s expansive participation in military diplomatic activities around the world is
another mechanism by which the PLA has taken a role in forging transnational military
relationships. While the aggregate total of the various activities that fall into the category of
military diplomacy has not changed all that much (or at least not in a clear direction) over the last
15 years, there have been some significant shifts in the types of military diplomatic activities that
the PLA engages in. Since 2010 there have been notably fewer visits abroad by PLA officials, but
also a marked increase in the PLAs participation in joint military exercises, especially those which
involve several nations working in a multilateral fashion. The researchers who study these trends
suggest that they point to the PLA’s growing confidence in its military sophistication (by putting
its military training and hardware on public display in a combat-like setting with strategic
partners), and its desire to shape its broader security environment and the world’s image of China
as an important player on the global military stage (Allen, Saunders and Chen, 2017).
Being Where the United States is Absent. The U.S. hegemonic footprint has a distinct,
geographical shape that was molded in the early postwar years as the United States asserted itself
politically over the capitalist core Western Europe and Southeast Asia and then used these
industrial hubs to spread its influence across the global south (Gowan 2004). That project was
aggressively pursued in Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, but less so on the
African Continent. That pattern, established in the postwar-Cold War decades, has largely
persisted and, as revealed by table 3 below, has therefore provided space for China to advance its
own global interests.
In the 1990s, most of China’s major FDI partners were located in southeast Asia and Sub-
Saharan Africa. As foreign investment activities grew rapidly in the 2000s, that regional pattern
began to diversify. FDI expanded significantly in Western Europe, and Latin America and the
Middle East, but it also intensified on the African continent as shown by the doubling of major
FDI partners in the region by the end of 2010. The 2000s also saw a significant expansion of
China’s oil import network, much of which took place in three regions. By the late 1990s China
had begun importing oil from coastal Southwest African nations and then, over the course of the
2000s, tapped into the oil reserves of a growing number of countries across the African continent.
In 2006, oil imports from Latin America became much more important, complementing oil imports
from its longer standing partners in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Similar regional partners to China’s global economic expansion emerge when we look at the
regional distribution of China’s global political military expansion. The peak year for Chinese
military operations was 2005 with engagements in twelve countries. Most of those were on the
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African continent and were conducted as part of UN peacekeeping operations. Much of the growth
in the size of China’s arms export network over this period comes from the signing of new arms
trade deals with sub-Saharan African countries. In the early 2000s, China’s economic aid was
distributed broadly across the poorer regions of the globe, with a marked expansion in economic
aid to Sub-Saharan African countries in this period. The growth in China’s economic aid network
that occurred after 2005 saw further expansion into Sub-Saharan Africa as well as expansion across
Latin America and the Middle East and North Africa.
Taken together, these trends point to Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America
as being key to Chinese economic and political-military expansion, which China’s economic and
political-military expansion into sub-Saharan Africa standing out for two reasons. First, while the
United States certainly has an economic presence on the African continent, China maintains strong
export, foreign investment, and oil importing relationships with a greater number of African
countries than the United States does. Particularly striking is the vast difference in the number of
major Chinese FDI partners versus the number of major U.S. FDI partners among the sub-Saharan
African nations. Second, China has buttressed its economic ties in the region with political-military
We do see evidence that the United States has sought to address its economic absence in the
region through a stronger political-military presencecontributing troops to those same
peacekeeping missions and, in recent years, spreading more military aid around—but, this has not
been matched by a growing economic commitment to the region. China has more strong foreign
investment and oil import partners in Sub Saharan Africa than the United States does, has more
arms export partners, sends economic aid to more countries, and deploys its military forces (again,
as part of UN peacekeeping missions) to the same number of countries in the region. It is therefore
in Sub-Saharan Africa where we see a gap in the hegemonic influence of the United States which
China has been able to move into just as the United States did in Western Europe after World War
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Table 3: Size of U.S. and Chinese economic and political-military networks by region (avg.
countries per region per period)
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Laying the Foundation for the Belt and Road. Both the BRI and AIIB mark a new stage in
China’s growing global influence. The BRI was launched as an explicit strategy for global
economic expansion through targeted infrastructure investments; the AIIB has been correctly
understood as an effort to supplant Western-dominated global financial institutions with one that
is explicitly China-led. Both are thus clear statements of China’s intent to take a leading role in
organizing the global economy. What role has China’s existing political-military practices, its
years of building up relationships through military engagement, arms dealing, providing economic
development aid, or military diplomatic activities, played in setting the stage for these latest
developments? Our strategy for addressing this question is to compare the similarity between the
network of countries receiving BRI investments and the network of AIIB partner countries, with
established economic and political-military networks.
The Heritage Foundation maintains the China Global Investment Tracker database, which
tracks Chinese foreign investment abroad since 2005 and, for investments since 2013, labels those
tied to the BRI. Data on the membership of the AIIB is listed on the AIIB’s website.10 For this
analysis, we look at all countries receiving BRI investments between 2013 and 2016 (the most
recent year for which the data is complete) and all members of the AIIB as of June, 2018.11 We
then compare these countries against those which have been part of China’s strong economic or
political-military networks in any of the years leading up to the beginning of the BRI, 2000 to
2012. This allows us to see if BRI and AIIB countries are more likely to have existing economic
or political-military ties to China. We further test whether having a sustained economic or political-
military relationship with China makes a BRI investment or AIIB membership more likely by
comparing BRI recipient countries and AIIB member countries against those countries which have
been a member of a strong economic or political-military network for seven or more years over
the 2000-2012 period.
Table 4, below, our results for five groups of countries: all 55 countries that have received at
least one BRI investment in the 2013-2016 period, the 34 countries that have received BRI
investments for at least three of these four years (what we call “core” BRI countries), the remaining
119 countries that have not received any BRI investments, the 61 members of the AIIB, and those
countries that are not members of the AIIB.
As Table 4 reveals, the 55 countries receiving BRI investments between 2013 and 2016 were
much more likely to have pre-existing, sustained economic and political-military ties to China than
those countries that have not received BRI investments. This finding is stronger when we look just
11 For this analysis, we include both investments (where the Chinese state maintains some interest in the project) and
construction aid under the short-hand label “investments.”
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core BRI countries. Core BRI countries are much more likely to have sustained ties to China’s
strong export, FDI, and oil import networks than non-BRI countries. Particularly noteworthy is the
large difference in the proportion of countries in each of these groups that have been part of the
strong FDI and oil import networks for seven or more years. Relatively few non-BRI countries
(19% and 13.5%) have been consistent members of these strong networks in the years leading up
to BRI, whereas core BRI countries have had sustained foreign investment and oil import ties to
China at roughly three times that rate.
A similar pattern holds when we look at political-military ties. Less than one quarter of non-
BRI countries have been part of China’s arms trade network since 2000 and almost none have had
a sustained arms trade relationship with China. In contrast, more than half of the core BRI countries
have been part of China’s growing arms export network, with one in five having a sustained arms
transfer relationship. Military deployments in the 2000-2012 period, though relatively rare for
China in general, were more likely to take place in countries that later received BRI investments.
Table 4: Proportion of countries in strong networks, 2000 - 2012, receiving Belt and
Road Investments or investing in AIIB.
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Finally, while both BRI and non-BRI countries have had some military-diplomatic
engagement with China, BRI countries were much more likely to have sustained military-
diplomatic ties. The membership of the AIIB is similarly made up of countries with established
economic and political-military ties to China, though with some notable exceptions. Table 4 shows
that AIIB members have similarly strong, long-standing connections to Chinese trade, foreign
investment, and oil import networks as “core” BRI countries and are similarly much more likely
to have established economic ties with China than non-AIIB members. On the other hand, AIIB
members have only slightly stronger ties to some Chinese political-military networks, specifically
arms exports and military diplomacy, but the degree of difference between AIIB members and
non-AIIB members is not as great as that between BRI and non-BRI countries. Like BRI countries,
AIIB members countries are much more likely to have sustained military-diplomatic relationships
with China, but AIIB member countries average only slightly more years being part of China’s
arms export network than non-AIIB members countries (1.6 versus 0.9). Moreover, Chinese
military deployments in the 2000-2012 period were in countries that did not become AIIB
Taken together, these findings show how the BRI and AIIB both build upon existing
economic and political-military relationships, and (especially the AIIB) serve as a framework for
expanding Chinese influence beyond its existing economic and political-military ties. The
membership of the AIIB consists of two groups: 37 regional partners who were likely to be direct
recipients of AIIB funded projects or who had their own interests in supporting infrastructure
development in the region, and 24 non-regional partners, most of whom are Western European
economies with whom China has had relatively few political-military ties over the last two
decades. China does not deploy troops to Europe, and Western Europe does not need economic
aid nor show much interest in Chinese arms. Yet, this does not mean that China has not used
political-military means to shore up commitments from Western European partners. As shown in
Table 2, above, the PLA’s military diplomatic activity in Western Europe is nearly as frequent as
it is in Sub-Saharan Africa, with roughly half of the countries in Western Europe participating in
military diplomacy with China in every year 2000-2011.12 This suggests two things. First, the BRI
and AIIB both facilitate Chinese investment abroad, but their likely effects with respect to China’s
global influence differ. In its early years, the BRI has served more to consolidate existing
relationships than to expand China’s influence around the world. The AIIB has acted more as a
vehicle for expanding Chinese influence, notably into the wealthiest countries of the West.
Whether the AIIB ultimately serves to create a real alternative to existing multilateral financial
12 Only six Western European countries participated in military diplomacy with China in 2012, but then it increased
to 13 countries in 2013.
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bodies still needs to be seen, but this is clearly a step towards China taking a lead role in organizing
the distribution of global investments and further developments along this line would certainly
shore up its position as a global economic leader. Second, this analysis reinforces the point that
softer forms of political-military engagement are doing more to help China achieve its global
ambitions than direct military conflict. Both the pattern of BRI investments and AIIB partner
countries suggest that military diplomacy supported, and perhaps even helped establish, these
Our goal in this paper has been to situate current debates over the shifting balance of power
in the global political-economy in a structural analysis of Chinese and U.S. hegemonic and
imperialistic practices. Our findings cast doubt on the ‘bifurcation’ theory which posits that the
current era is one of a new kind of global order, with U.S. power maintained through political-
military means and Chinese power through economic means. The macro-level picture that we
provide does not supply evidence supporting a decoupling of U.S. political-military relationships
from its economic relationships. At the same time, we are able to show that just as China’s global
economic engagement has grown, so too has the Chinese state built up its global political-military
apparatus, supplying the world with arms, deploying more of its troops abroad, and routinely
participating in joint military exercises with other states. These activities to not reach the scale of
those of the United States, but it would be a mistake to expect them to. By taking a broad view on
what constitutes political-military engagement our analysis shows how China has conducted its
political-military activities within and around global structures crafted by decades of U.S.
Given that the United States remains committed to this degree of global military presence
Chinese global military strategy is likely to avoid direct confrontation with the United States and
will emphasize subtler forms of military engagement. At the same time, economic expansion may
call on greater use of more aggressive militarism. The story of Chinese economic globalization
over the last twenty years is one of expanding foreign direct investments and increased
diversification of its oil supplies. It is perhaps no surprise then that it is within these networks in
particular that we see the expansion of China’s global political-military activities and China’s
growing oil dependency creates new security dilemmas. In recent years, nearly three-quarters of
its oil imports have been transported through the Strait of Malacca, over which China had little
control (Zhang 2011). In response to this dilemma, China took considerable efforts to control its
demands for oil and to diversify sources and routes of its oil supply (Zhang 2011; Kennedy 2011).
From the late 2000s, China stepped up in its sovereignty claim in the South China Sea. Some
estimates consider this area as a major offshore oil field, and it is a vital shipping lane of oil for
Journal of World-Systems Research | Vol. 25 Issue 2 | Foundations of China’s Global Ascendency | DOI 10.5195/JWSR.2019.874
not only China but also Japan and South Korea. As of 2016, around half of the world’s oil tanker
traffic flew through the South China Sea (Daiss 2016; Maxie 2016).
Our findings suggest that China’s strategy for dealing with security matters will not take the
form of U.S.-style unilateral intervention. Rather, China is more likely to boost its capacity to
maintain order around the world by supporting, and increasingly leading, multilateral forces and
alliances. Moves in this direction can be seen in the shifts in China’s military diplomatic activities
that have taken place in recent years. Since 2013, the People’s Liberation Army has participated
in a much higher number of joint military exercises and, since 2012, has been hosting roughly
three times as many senior-level foreign military meetings as it has been attending (Allen, Chen
and Saunders 2017).
Some observers also point to expanding arms exports as a means to support China’s emerging
global strategy by extending China’s political, and possibly military reach in the post-2000 period
(Luo 2017). Our analyses thus suggest that accounts of rising Chinese global influence will need
to be less attendant to the conventionally understood, “hard” forms of military power (i.e., direct
military conflict) and devote more attention to “softer” forms of military power that use military
institutions to support economic and political agendas.
We are only beginning to understand the sources, and broader impacts of China’s global
political-military engagements. Take, for example, China’s growing presence in the global arms
market. “Made in China” is becoming a weapon-brand that not only appeals to a growing range of
clients but also expands China’s foreign policy influence with significant impacts on global and
regional order (Ling and Matthews 2017). This is a reflection, in part, of the changing relationship
between the Chinese Communist Party, the PLA, and domestic defense industries. From the late
1970s, the Chinese military was encouraged to engage in commercial activities to make up for
reduced support from the state’s budget (Mulvenon 2001). This strategy generated serious
disciplinary problems in the military but boosted China’s arms exports (Karmel 1997; Luo 2017).
In 1998 the Chinese leadership finally made the decision to prohibit the military from commercial
activities. Since then, the central government also expanded the budget for military expenditure
and introduced a series of reforms to bolster defense research and innovation (Cheung 2009; Luo
At the same time, it is having real impacts on the domestic politics of China’s arms trade
partners. A growing body of literature contends that China is playing a very contradictory role in
Africa with mixed consequences for democratization in the region (Brookes 2007; Campbell 2008,
De Soysa and Midford 2012). In some African countries, China’s arms sales, along with its
contribution to peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities, are critically needed in an era when
“UN peacekeeping is severely overstretched” (Gill and Huang 2009:9). In other instances, arms
Journal of World-Systems Research | Vol. 25 Issue 2 | Major and Luo | DOI 10.5195/JWSR.2019.874
deliveries from China to some African authoritarian regimes were used in civil wars and to support
state repression of political movements (Conteh-Morgan and Weeks 2016; Ayabei 2017).
In drawing these connections, we have relied on a research method that privileges breadth
over depth. As such, these findings lack the nuance, detail, and historical perspective that is needed
to understand the causal processes behind the trends that we describe here. In our view, this
sacrifice is worth the ability to contextualize geographically and temporally-specific
manifestations of China’s rise in a broader set of structural patterns. But it is a method that can
certainly be developed and improved upon. Indeed, we hope that our contribution reinvigorates
interest in structural-level analyses of this sort as there is much that can be gleaned from the
perspective that it offers. Two potentially fruitful directions for this work come to mind. The first
is to take a more fine-grained look at the distribution of trading partners. As we note, the size of
China’s overall trade network is nearly global, but distinguishing trade partners by types of
commodities or degrees of value added could add some analytical dynamism to this critical
component of China’s economic role in the global economy. The second is to go further along the
lines suggested by some scholars of U.S. hegemony and focus on key ‘nodes’ in China’s global
economic and political-military networks, countries with whom China has maintained strong ties
for a sustained period of time across multiple dimensions.
About the Authors: Aaron Major is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University at
Albany - SUNY. He is the author of Architects of Austerity (Standord UP, 2014) and several
articles on global finance and the neoliberal turn. Zhifan Luo is a Ph.D. candidate of sociology at
the University at Albany - State University of New York. Her current project applies the technique
of computer-assisted text analysis to understand the perception of China among U.S. elites.
Disclosure Statement: Any conflicts of interest are reported in the acknowledgments section of
the article’s text. Otherwise, authors have indicated that they have no conflict of interests upon
submission of the article to the journal.
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Full-text available
The decline of a hegemon can create openings for lesser powers to expand their influence in the world-system. Is this what China is currently attempting to do? This paper contributes to this on-going debate by examining China’s arms transfer activities from a historical perspective. Using data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute arms transfer database and the World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers database, I argue that the Chinese arms transfer regime has evolved through three phases. In Phase One, China used gifts of arms to compete with the Soviet Union and to expand influence among Third World countries. In Phase Two, China used arms exports mainly to assist national developmental projects. Only evidence in Phase Three supports the emergence of a global strategy that attempts to extend China’s economic, political, and possibly military outreach. This paper suggests that though China has not yet become a contender for world hegemony as Arrighi argues (2007), China has formulated a globally-focused agenda which, in the medium-term, could extend its influence in regions where U.S. domination is relatively weak.
Full-text available
There is debate in the literature regarding whether China can become a new world hegemonic power in the 21 st century. Most existing analyses focus on economic aspects of world hegemony-building processes and ignore its macro-political dimensions. This article starts with the premise that reshaping the geopolitical configuration of the interstate system is an important part of world hegemony-building processes. One of the ways in which previous and current world hegemonic powers established their world hegemonies was through the inclusion of new nations by co-opting, supporting or sometimes selectively leading a section of nationalist movements into independence. Our comparative analysis shows that, as of now, contemporary China has not been following this historical pattern. Compared to Mao-era China, which was perceived as a champion of national liberation—at least when colonial and semi-colonial areas were at stake—today's People's Republic of China (PRC) is emerging as a champion of the global geo-political status quo. The current Chinese government is not actively pursuing the transformation of the interstate system or seeking to create instabilities at different levels. This is because, unlike previous and current world hegemonic powers, during its rise to global preeminence, Chinese territorial integrity has been challenged due to rapid escalation of nationalist/secessionist movements within its own state boundaries. Hence, the PRC's foreign policy has consistently been concerned with creating and preserving macro-political stability at national and international levels.
Many thought China’s rise would fundamentally remake the global order. Yet, much like other developing nations, the Chinese state now finds itself in a status quo characterized by free trade and American domination. Through a cutting-edge historical, sociological, and political analysis, Ho-fung Hung details the competing interests and economic realities that temper the dream of Chinese supremacy—forces that are stymieing growth throughout the global South. Hung focuses on four common misconceptions: that China could undermine orthodoxy by offering an alternative model of growth; that China is radically altering power relations between the East and the West; that China is capable of diminishing the global power of the United States; and that the Chinese economy would restore the world’s wealth after the 2008 financial crisis. His work reveals how much China depends on the existing order and how the interests of the Chinese elites maintain these ties. Through its perpetuation of the dollar standard and its addiction to U.S. Treasury bonds, China remains bound to the terms of its own prosperity, and its economic practices of exploiting debt bubbles are destined to fail. Hung ultimately warns of a postmiracle China that will grow increasingly assertive in attitude while remaining constrained in capability.
This book critically examines the argument that the Global South has risen in recent years, that its rise has intensified since the 2008 financial crisis, and that this in turn has hastened the decline of the West and the US in particular. Drawing on critical theories of international relations and development, Kiely puts the rise into context and shows how the factors that aided the rise of the South have now given way to a less favourable international context. Indeed, economic problems in China and other leading countries, falling commodity prices and capital outflows point us in the direction of identifying a new phase of the 2008 financial crisis: an emerging markets crisis. Kiely argues that this is a crisis which demonstrates the continued dependent position of the South in the context of the uneven and combined development of international capitalism. Ray Kiely is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London, UK. He is the author of eight previous books including Rethinking Imperialism (2010), and The BRICS, US ‘Decline’ and Global Transformations (2015).
Possession of a brand is a sine qua non for economic success, not least because it connotes trust in delivering the value promised. Although Western arms exporters offer branded systems whose sales are influenced by price, there is a plethora of other economic variables, such as offset requirements and life-cycle support. Entrants to the international arms market will struggle without such arms “packages.” China’s entry, however, goes beyond the traditional economic paradigm. A four-stage historical model offers the backdrop for identifying the drivers that have forged its market entry into 55 countries worldwide. The strategy initially focused on sales of rudimentary military equipment for political purposes, but recently it has begun to commercialize exports, repositioning them from a low- to a high-tech sales trajectory. A Sino “brand” is thus emerging, reflecting both competitiveness and diplomatic considerations, especially non-interference in client state domestic affairs.
This book is about the American and the British empires. In the tradition of macro-comparative historical sociology, it puts the two empires under a critical comparative lens. But this book is also meant as an assault. It is an assault against a way of thinking called “exceptionalism.” Exceptionalism presumes that the United States is special and especially benign. It assumes that the United States has a unique and essential character. It assumes that the United States exemplifies the most perfect liberal democracy in the world. It assumes that understanding what the United States does abroad only depends on understanding what happens within the United States. It also assumes that the United States and its people are the sole agents of history – whether for ill or for good. Exceptionalism is the North American counterpart to Eurocentrism. It silently structures thought. And it has helped to create and sustain empire. It does this not only by heralding the American empire as unique, but also by assuming the United States and its people have the privilege of directing history. Any analysis of the American empire must therefore confront exceptionalist thought.