The twentieth century was characterized by Western economic and political hegemony on the global scale. This represented the culmination of a trend that began with European imperialism and achieved its greatest expression in the industrial, cultural, and military capabilities of the United States in the second half of the twentieth century. When we consider what might happen in the future, though, it is far from clear that this American-led Western hegemony will continue. Asian economies like China and India have already exceeded those of America’s regional allies, like Japan and South Korea. Some predict that the twenty-first century will see Asian hegemony displace the Untied States and its Western allies in terms of leadership of the global economy. In this paper, I will argue that the United States is experiencing a decline at a time when China, in particular, is in ascendance. If these trends continue, then the twenty-first century will indeed be Asia’s century. But it is also possible that a new dynamic could replace this hegemonic model of international relations.
According to a variety of measures, the United States has been in a gradual decline since the 1970s that has accelerated in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis. When compared to its zenith in the 1950s, the United States is far from the economic superpower that it once was. According to Du Boff (2003, p. 1-2), the United States supplied half of the world’s gross product in 1950 but had declined to only 21 percent by the start of the twenty-first century. Non-American companies now dominate major industries from electronics to petroleum refining to pharmaceuticals. And whereas 47 percent ...
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...lobal hegemony in a position commiserate with the size and strength of its economy. China will certainly alter the international economic and political relations of the global world order, but it has every interest in maintaining a global economy that is essentially alike the one that has propelled its growth in the first place.
I think that this third route will be the most likely. The twentieth-century will indeed be Asia’s century, but not necessarily in the sense that it will wholly displace current international hierarchies. The American economy is going to continue to decline in relative terms but will still be significant enough to be extremely important on the world stage. A new international hegemony will be less about East versus West, and more about the integration of the global economy in a way that balances the power between China and the United States.
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