The Nexus between the Emerging Powers and the Existing World Order: Interdependent Hegemony


The Concept of “Interdependent Hegemony”1

Since the global financial crisis in 2008 with the decline of the hegemonic dominance of the US-led world order, the rise of emerging powers has successfully penetrated into some power areas in terms of economic competition, capital accumulation, political and economic influence as well as technical and material capacities. China in particular is performing outstandingly in terms of its global share of high-tech manufacturing commodities, financial competitiveness as well as international aid and overseas investment. It is argued that the world order is entering into an era of interdependent hegemony, implying that the sources to feed and maintain the areas of structural power and monopoly are no longer dominated exclusively by the US/West, and to a large extent they are dependent on the inputs from emerging powers.

Notwithstanding the concept of “hegemony” as an important tool for understanding and analyzing politics and international relations, “interdependent hegemony” is argued to be a better concept in describing, understanding and analyzing the world order in transformation. The concept of “interdependent hegemony” implies a dialectic process of mutual challenge, mutual constraint, mutual need, and mutual accommodation. It symbolizes a dynamic situation in which the existing system’s defenders and the new emerging powers are intertwined in a constant interactive process of shaping and reshaping the world order, whereby nation states, global governance, transnational actors, civil societies and interest groups are incorporated into the dominant project of transnational capitalism.

Conceptualizing the Characteristics of “Interdependent Hegemony”

First of all, “interdependent hegemony” is understood as a primarily interactive and dynamic relationship between emerging powers and the existing constellation of the international order: emerging powers were invited and were pushed to join in the integration and globalization processes by the established powers, while the economic success of emerging powers is becoming a challenge to the existing order. Such an unintended consequence is well observed by Chris Patten, the last British Governor of Hong Kong, who described the rise of China as “the first example of a country which has done astonishingly well in this international system, but challenges its basic foundations” (as quoted in BBC News 2008). China’s success is achieved from its integration in the international system, while at the same time it contradicts or challenges some of the order’s basic norms — the two sides of the same coin.

Secondly, interdependent hegemony also exemplifies the fact that globalization and global capitalism is entering into a stage of “varieties of capitalism” in which “capitalist classes” are not only private economic actors but also states, such as Chinese state-owned enterprises. The effective integration of state interests and capital accumulation is helping some emerging power, particularly China, to win a “war of position”2 by redefining the systems of alliance and reshaping the terrain and parameters of global social, economic, and political relations.

Thirdly, interdependent hegemony is leading the world into a post-hegemony era in which there will be no hegemonic norms and values defined by one single country (the US) or by a core cultural civilization (the West). China’s economic success is opening for multiple norms and values, and the “Chinese model” is opening for multiple factors and explanations regarding mechanisms that cause nations to grow, and regarding the set of mutually dependent relationships between property rights and economic growth, between the rule of law and a market economy, between a free currency flow and economic order, and, most importantly, and between democracy and development. These norms and values should not be defined by the existing powers alone, and they are becoming “interdependent” – open, less rigid, and non-universal.

Fourthly, interdependent hegemony depicts new anti-hegemonic alliances among emerging powers, but these alliances are issue-based rather than norm-based. They will not be turned into a new alternative hegemony, but will remain to constitute a counterbalance, so as to enhance multilateralism or avoid unilateral hegemony. Most emerging powers in general and China in particular have led a very opportunist foreign policy in order to find the balance between defending their “national interest” and resisting the hegemons of the existing order. Beijing has no specific unified global strategy grounded on norms and principles; rather, it has different tactics and policy approaches to different global political, economic, and security problems on a case-by-case basis.

Fifthly, interdependent hegemony can offer emerging powers a good opportunity to develop a collective “positioning” strategy and “balancing” tactics. However, interdependent hegemony also illustrates the fact that emerging powers are not yet able to form an independent “historical bloc” and to create a substitution for an organic and homogenous hegemony. This is because emerging powers have different relationships with the existing powers and have different global influence. Some emerging powers, like China and India, still have unresolved political and historical problems among themselves.

Sixthly, interdependent hegemony implies a new type of hegemony grounded in the enlargement of “room for maneuver” and the increase of “upward mobility” of emerging powers to counterbalance the power of the US (and the EU), while at the same time, creating interdependence in the global order. The economic and political relationship between the established and emerging powers does not demonstrate a repetition of the traditional North-South dependent affiliation, rather, it exhibits an interdependent/intertwined relationship between them.

Interdependent Hegemony between the Existing and Emerging Powers

“Interdependent hegemony” views the relationship between the rise of emerging powers and the existing world order as being more interdependent than conflictual. The rise of China, for example, should not be one-sidedly seen as the decline of the US-led hegemony and the existing world order. On the contrary, some scholars actually interpret the success of China and other emerging powers as the result of their integration in the US-led world order and as convincing evidence of the functioning and vitality of the existing liberal order. Today China is becoming a liberal power in its own way and Beijing is in the process of shaping the world re-ordering through occupying a hegemonic position in the global financial order and providing financial public goods.

Therefore, it is necessary to adopt a dialectic approach to understanding the current world system in which patterns of relationship among nation-states are shaped by the historical evolution of the hegemonic structure and with which emerging powers are politically and economically integrated and embedded. Emerging powers’ challenge and the structural barriers of such challenge can be conceptualized through the discussion of “interdependent hegemony” in the capitalist world system. That is to say, the emerging power phenomenon together with the limit of its shape of an alternative hegemony, is a dialectic interaction that demonstrates, on the one hand, the dynamic and inclusive nature of the capitalist world system and, on the other hand, the contradictions embedded in the system in the process of integrating national economies.


1 This short opinion piece is derived on the author’s new publication — Li Xing (2016) From “Hegemony and World Order” to “Interdependent Hegemony and World Reorder.” In Steen F. Christensen and Li Xing (eds.) Emerging Powers, Emerging Markets, Emerging Societies: Global Responses. London: Palgrave MaCmillan.
2 The notion is derived from Antonio Gramsci, who refers to a slow and protracted political strategy of ideological struggle that aims to occupy the critical terrain of popular “common sense.” The concept intends to be distinguished from another notion termed by Gramsci as “war of maneuver”, which refers to a direct, violent and immediate assault on the state for achieving political power (Gramsci, 1971).

Li Xing

Li Xing, PhD., is Professor and Director of the Research Centre on Development and International Relations, Department of Culture and Global Studies, Aalborg University, Denmark. He is also the Editor in Chief of the Journal of China and International Studies (ISSN: 2245-8921).

Professor Li Xing has been in recent years engaged in writing and editing a series of anthologies around the theme of the rise of China and the world order, such as The Rise of China and the Capitalist World Order (Ashgate, 2010); The Rise of China and the Semi-periphery and Periphery Countries (Aalborg University Press, 2012); China-Africa Relations in an Era of Great Transformations (Ashgate, 2013); The Rise of the BRICS and Beyond: The Political Economy of the Emergence of a New World Order? (Ashgate, 2014); Emerging Powers, Emerging Markets, Emerging Societies: Global Responses (Palgrave MaCmillan, 2016). He is now editing a volume on Mapping China’s One Belt One Road Initiative (Palgrave MaCmillan, forthcoming, 2018).

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