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China Edging Closer To Becoming A Global Hegemon


as is being pointed out by a growing number of scholars, analysts and experts amid abundant evidence, it has become a present-day reality that in the near future we are likely to live in a different kind of world, one that is driven and dominated by China.


While the US has steadily been on the wane, China has risen up to establish itself as a new significant powerhouse on the global stage. There has been “China awareness” worldwide. TV programs and news articles on China have become commonplace.

美国一直在走下坡路,而中国已崛起,并在全球舞台上确立了自己作为一个新的重要强国的地位。世界各地都有“对中国的关注”。 关于中国的电视节目和新闻报道已经变得司空见惯。

Given the strength of its sheer size and enormous population, its dramatic economic growth and overseas direct investment, its influence on and close relationship with several key countries, and its domestic consolidated polity and strong commitment to unity, many even ascertain that China will succeed the US as the global hegemon within the next 10 or 20 years and that its reign will change the world in the most profound ways.


But the question is, how close are we to this becoming reality and, more important, does the arrival of China signal the end of Western universalism?


Hegemony defined
In general, hegemony refers to political, economic, military, social or cultural predominance of one state over others. International-relations theory explains that hegemonic status is derived from possession of: (i) great material asymmetry in favor of one state; (ii) enough military power to defeat systematically any potential contester in the system; (iii) access to raw materials, natural resources, capital and markets; (iv) competitive advantages in the production of value-added goods; (v) an accepted ideology reflecting this status quo; and (vi) ability to provide certain public goods such as security, or commercial and financial stability.

(i) 有利于一个国家的巨大的物质不对称;
(v) 反映这种现状的公认的意识形态;
(vi) 提供安全、商业、金融稳定等公共需求的能力。

Over the last two centuries, the world has seen two global hegemons: Britain (1850-1914) and the US (1945 to the present). Britain’s hegemonic power was expressed in the form of maritime expansion, colonial empires, and the invention of the international gold-standard system.
For the US, it was derived from its airborne and naval superiority, a global network of military bases, its global dominance of the international economic system, and its currency’s dominant position in the international financial system. Possession of the world’s privileged reserve currency in particular means that the US can print money and run enormous trade deficits in a way that other countries cannot. Moreover, American multinational corporations can gain advantage from avoiding the transactional costs of currency exchange in the financing of their trade.


However, in the past two decades, we have apparently witnessed the fading of US hegemony.


America’s change of course
During the administration of president George W Bush, the US turned away from consensual multilateralism toward unilateralism that played down the need for alliances and placed a priority on military strength.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 faced widespread criticism, and the subsequent occupation of that country was perceived as a failure and became broadly unpopular. Such military intervention violated international norms and legality, undermining America’s image and credibility abroad sharply.



Then, American superpower status was shaken again by the financial crisis in 2007. The crisis emanated from flawed regulation, perverse incentives for banks to sell mortgages to poor Americans with no ability to repay, and gigantic leverage in the financial system, bringing the whole financial sector to its knees and sending shockwaves throughout the global economy.


Later, thanks to China, the crisis was mitigated by Beijing’s purchase of US Treasury bonds. As a consequence, the financial meltdown set the scene for gravitational shift in economic power, from the West to East Asia and from the US to China.
Since 2000, annual growth of China’s gross domestic product has fluctuated between 6.7% and 14.2%, while that of the US peaked at 3.8% in 2004 and plunged to negative-2.8% in 2009 because of the 2007 financial crisis. (However, China’s GDP per capita is still clearly lagging behind the US because of its huge population.)


Moreover, the Chinese government was successful in poverty reduction, as it lifted 800 million people out of poverty between 1978 and 2014, more than any other country. Now its large middle class and its government are prosperous and have massive spending power, becoming an increasingly important market for every country.


As of 2016, China was the world’s largest exporter and second-largest importer of merchandise goods. It also had the world’s largest foreign-exchange reserves, totaling US$3.52 trillion.


Interestingly, according to the annual ranking of the world’s largest banks by assets released by S&P Global Intelligence, four of the five largest banks are Chinese.
Apart from being the world’s No 1 recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI), China is also among the world’s largest providers in terms of overseas investment and financial assistance, of which a big part comes in the form of development finance.


Since the beginning of the 21st century, China has been spreading its wings globally, intending to foster closer ties with developing countries and meanwhile seeking a reliable supply of the raw materials and natural resources required for fueling its economic growth.


In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to provide a $2 billion fund for investing in and assisting developing countries, which would increase to $12 billion over the next 15 years.
China’s most emphasized areas of strategic engagement are perhaps Africa and Latin America. In Africa, a continent that has been relatively neglected by the US and European countries, the evidence of growing Chinese presence is everywhere. Trade between China and Africa as well as China’s investment in the region has increased dramatically across the continent.


As for Latin America, the United States’ geo-strategic back yard, China is now the largest trading partner of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru. This is especially so with Brazil, where China has a close diplomatic and political relationship through their membership of the BRICS grouping.


China’s presence in developing countries means much more than mutual economic benefit to both parties. First, China’s arrival signals an alternative source of assistance as they are no longer reliant on the West, or on multilateral lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. While Western aid is often patronizing and has strings attached concerning political conditions such as democracy and human rights, Chinese aid has far fewer, based on the notion that it is wrong to impose political and economic conditionality in exchange for assistance.


Former Chinese president Hu Jintao said, “China steadfastly supports the wish of the African countries to safeguard their independence and sovereignty and choose their road of development according to their national conditions.”
Second, a contrasting approach toward developing countries paves the way for projecting a new distinctive model of global development to the world. It is characterized by state-led investment focusing on infrastructure and support services that are less tied to the donor’s economic interests, less ideological, but more pragmatic and experimental.


Also, China’s impressive economic growth and poverty reduction have attracted a lot of attention and can be a model for other nations to consider and learn from.
Third, for developing countries, China’s unconditional economic assistance is considered more favorable, friendly and businesslike. This has been the most instrumental in enhancing the prospects of building long-term alliances, support and credibility at the international level.


These factors perhaps can explain why there has been a significant shift of sentiment among developing countries away from the US and toward China.
Leaving aside economic and military concerns, one thing that makes US hegemony increasingly unpopular in the world is its notion of soft power that puts too much emphasis on the importance of democracy within nation-states without realizing that all countries are not the same, all government systems function differently, all cultures cannot be blanketed with the same designated set of standards and protocols.


China seems to have realized this and seeks to offer a development package that emphasizes no-strings-attached aid and infrastructural assistance, respect for sovereignty, importance of a strong state, opposition to superpower domination, and support for a level playing field.
In this connection, if China succeeds in becoming a global hegemon, these emphases together with ethical elements rooted in Confucianism, a philosophy embraced by the Communist Party of China and currently being promoted worldwide as the ideology and culture of today’s China, are likely to be featured in the new order.

在这方面,如果中国成功地成为一个全球领袖, 这些根植于儒家思想中的强调以及道德因素,作为当今中国的思想文化、一种被中国TG接受并正在全球推广的哲学思想,很可能会出现在新秩序中。

Another important determinant of becoming a global hegemon is political leadership. Since Donald Trump assumed the US presidency in January 2017, there has been a lot of discussion questioning his leadership and often drawing comparisons with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Trump’s presidency has been widely criticized and is unpopular overseas, deteriorating the global image and credibility of the US. A survey by Pew Research Center conducted in 37 countries showed US favorability ratings in the rest of the world dropping to 49% from 64% at the end of Barack Obama’s administration; in many countries the figure was lower than for either Russian President Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping, and even below that of George W Bush in 2004 after the Iraq invasion.


Aside from Trump’s unfavorable character, many of his key policies under the “America First” slogan have been broadly controversial and opposed, such as building a wall between the US and Mexico, withdrawing the US from major trade and climate-change partnerships, banning people from some Muslim-majority countries entering the US, weakening health care, the “shithole” remark, the planned shift of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and the more recent proposal of 25% tariffs on some Chinese imports. These acts of protectionism and isolationism are signs of abdication of its global leadership role to China.

除了特朗普那令人不快的性格, 他在“美国优先”口号下的许多关键政策都引起广泛争议和反对, 比如在美国和墨西哥之间建墙, 从主要的贸易、气候变化伙伴协议中撤出,禁止一些穆斯林占多数的国家的人民进入美国,削减医疗保险,“屎坑”言论,美国驻耶路撒冷大使馆搬迁计划,以及最近对部分中国进口商品征收25%关税的提议。

When speaking about hegemony, it should not be considered solely in economic terms but in terms of politics and culture too. In economic terms, considering the heavy military burden borne by the US, its colossal amount of debt based on an addiction to spending and imports, and its dependence on China to finance its budget deficits, this underlines the fragility of American prosperity, and the speculation that China will overtake the US to undertake a position of global hegemony in the near future seems to be a sure thing.

在谈到霸权时,不应只考虑经济方面,还应考虑政治和文化。在经济方面,考虑到美国承受沉重的军事负担、其基于消费和进口的巨大债务、以及依赖中国为其预算赤字提供资金,这些都突显了美国繁荣的脆弱性, 中国在不久的将来取代美国成为全球领袖似乎是一件必然的事情。

But for a country to be accepted or welcomed, hegemony requires something more. American political scientist Joseph Nye once stated that China was far from America’s equal in soft power because of its lack of cultural industries or non-governmental organizations such as those in the US. However, China is now working hard to promote its culture and increase its own soft power around the world, for example establishing government-funded Confucius Institutes worldwide and sponsoring Lunar New Year celebrations around the world.


The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), for the most part seen as a strategy to engineer China’s economic expansion and diplomatic influence overseas, will also serve well as a platform backing this.


Within the next decade, China order will begin to take shape and, as Martin Jacques wrote in his renowned book When China Rules the World, it is likely to exercise power in new and distinctive ways that are congruent with its history and culture. It will reconfigure the world on its terms far more fundamentally than any other past hegemon.

在接下来的十年里,中国的秩序将开始成形,正如马丁•雅克在他的著名著作《当中国统治世界》【When China Rules the World】中所写的那样,它很可能以新的、独特的方式行使权力,这与中国的历史和文化是一致的。相比于过去的其他霸权,中国将更加根本的改变世界。

Sit back, relax and be prepared for the change.


Dr Pattharapong Rattanasevee is a lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science and Law, Burapha University, Thailand. His academic interests focus on international relations, regionalism and Southeast Asia.