Will China’s rapid increase in power change the global structure?

12 May

Currently the United States (US) is seen as the world’s superpower, and in many ways China is challenging this. ‘There is no question that China has emerged as a major player in the global economy.’ (Hung, 2009, p169). ‘China’s emergence will, on the one hand, unavoidably generate power shift and shape the international order but on the other hand, help contrast a new balance of power.’ (2010, p53). Martin Jacques (2009) argued that the role played is so large that it would overtake the United States economically by 2027, thus challenging global order. John J Mearsheimer as well as other offensive realists alike take the approach that ‘rising China and the USA will engage in an intense security competition with considerable potential for war.’ (Dunne et al 2010, p)


‘China has experienced impressive economic growth over the past 30 years, averaging 9-10 percent real growth per year.’ (Xing 2010, p1). China’s economy has made a shift towards free market investment leading some to claim its rise has been driven by the ideas of capitalism.

Above it has been depicted the ways in which China has surpassed the US and may continue to do so, China’s emissions has dramatically increased and surpassed that of the US which unlike its other achievements, has been frowned upon by the international community and highlights the costs associated with their rapid expansion.

The US has lost more than three million manufacturing jobs since 2000, while imports from China have increased more than 200%.’ (Hung 2009, p153). A question that should be asked in the future ‘is not so much how China’s rise will affect the world, but to what extent the world will allow China to continue its ascent.’ (Kynge 2007, p224). This is more so with China’s economic performance during the global downturn, especially in comparison to many countries considered superpowers who faced double dip recessions. Civil unrest in China has burgeoned because of health concerns of many Chinese people.  The expense of economic growth is increasingly becoming too large, and that seems to be more the case with economic growth slowing down. This can be seen that Chinese people are becoming more vocal about their concerns through the use of demonstrations (Feng Jie and Wang Tao, 2012)



Chow G. (2010), ‘Interpreting China’s Economy’, Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co.

Dunne T. Kurki M. And Smith S. (2010), ‘Theories of International Relations: Discipline and Diversity’, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Feng Jie and Wang Tao (2012) Officials struggling to respond to China’s year of environment protests. Chinadialogue [online] Available at: http://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/5438 [Accessed: 2 May 2013]

Hung H. (2009), ‘China and the Transformation of Global Capitalism’, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press

Kynge J. (2006), ‘China Shakes the World: A Titans Rise and Troubled Future-and the Challenge for America’, New York: First Mariner Books

Li M. (2010), ‘The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy’, London: Pluto Press

Jacques M. (2009), ‘When China Rules the World’, New York: Penguin Group

Xing L. (2010), ‘The Rise of China and the Capitalist World Order’, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Group


4 Responses to “Will China’s rapid increase in power change the global structure?”

  1. gs15g10 May 13, 2013 at 7:55 am #

    China is certainly posing a threat towards the current world order and challenging the US as the current superpower, however many of the factors that you look at are of an economic nature.
    The international relations scholar Joseph Nye has repeatedly emphasised the importance of what he has termed ‘soft power’. He describes this as “the ability to get what you want through attraction and persuasion”. This is where the US is clearly the dominant power.
    China has invested billions into increasing their soft power and thus their image abroad, for example they have invested a lot of money and resources into education through Confucius institutions around the world (of which there are now more than 300) and through scholarships for foreign students to study in China. However these investments do not appear to be having the positive effects the Chinese Communist Party had hoped for.
    Joseph Nye thus concludes that the best way to become the global superpower is to use smart power, which is a combination of both your soft power (including your foreign policy) backed by your hard power capabilities (which includes military and economic might). Only when you have mastered all four aspects of power will China then be able to successfully challenge the US.
    As you state above, Mearsheimer claims that the two global powers will engage in an intense security battle, however, many scholars would question this assumption made by the realist as China and the US are so interconnected economically and so interdependent on one another (the US is dependent on China to fund their debt and China is dependent upon the US for the primary destination for its exports) that it would not be economically sound for the two to compete militarily.

    Nye, J. S. (1990) Soft Power. Foreign Policy. No. 80, pp. 153-171
    Shambaugh, D. (2013) China goes global: the Partial power. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aE66iIUi9U
    Joseph Nye on global power shifts:

  2. gs15g10 May 13, 2013 at 7:56 am #

    Joseph Nye on global power shifts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=796LfXwzIUk

  3. jpt1g11 May 13, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    The question of whether China can really challenge the U.S as a global power is probably one of the most popular in international relations at the moment.

    While China undoubtedly has the resources capable of challenging on the economic front, they would be wise not to overtly challenge the West as a whole. A large amount of their resources rest in Western countries and a lot of diplomatic effort has been made to join institutions like the World Trade Organisation and the IMF.

    It’s not too dissimilar with regard to the political implications. China has endeared itself to join with other countries in groups like the G8. Former President Hu Jintao has himself stressed that China intends to develop as a peaceful power, with little regard to fighting wars across the globe like the U.S.

    Also relevant is America’s relative decline as a nation. How well their soft power will adapt to this remains to be seen.

  4. csm2g10 May 15, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    In my opinion there are three possible ways in which China could be perceived to be able to alter the global power structure; economically, militarily, and ideologically. When analysing each way individually, however, the argument may not appear so clear cut.
    Economically, China is a new and emerging power; whose rise over the last three decades has been unprecedented, and by any means remarkable. However, as it stands, China’s economy is second to the United States. If, in the coming decades, China’s economic output increases beyond that of the United States, China may inevitably alter the global economic structure, as countries will turn to China – before they turn to the United States, for aid, advice and bi-polar relations. To a certain extent this is already happening. However, China will need to surpass the United States in order to increase its role in the IMF and World Bank. If this can be achieved then China will be able to have an active hand in distributing loans to meet its own interests. Yet China’s forecasted rate of economic growth is set to decrease if the country is not able to restructure itself economically and tackle its rapid population ageing problems. Thus China’ ability to restructure the global economy through economic power remains uncertain.
    Militarily, China is second to the United States; a forecast which is unlikely to change. Although its last report has shown an increase in the country’s defense budget; nevertheless, this has been kept far below that of the United States? Why? Due to the pessimism surrounding China’s rise, the country has endeavored to present itself as a “responsible” power, as thus has not tried to challenge the military capability of the United States. This could be damaging to how China is perceived, and how its intentions are portrayed. Thus China is likely to continue to possess a strong enough military to defend itself from potential physical attacks, but it will refrain from amassing the “hard” power to alter the global structure through its military capabilities.
    Yet, China’s ideological power poses a more complex argument. As the comment above suggests, China is increasingly attempting to spread its core Confucian values to outside of China, through the funding of student scholarships, but the success of this has been limited. However, China’s wide foreign policy has facilitated China’s ideological “soft power” spread with greater success. Through the explicitly “Un-Westernized” China model which China is gaining increasing influence throughout the world- (through establishing “soft” relationships when financing large infrastructure projects in Africa) – China is posing an ideological challenge to the West. Whether China manages to alter the ideological rules of the global order will depend on whether other countries continue to take up, and internalize China’s unique Confucian values based around state-sovereignty, strong centralized government control, non-intervention, and economic development as a priority, and reject the West’s “liberal” values and norms.
    Thus, China’s best strategy is to continue to use their “hard” economic might, while it is still near its peak, to actively financial encourage other countries to back China’s un-westernized values. If China can negotiate this form of “smart” power, they may just supply the tools needed to create a shift in the accepted global structure.

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