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The Rise of China

The 2009 economic recession and financial crisis weakened US economic power. The rise of the Asian economy, on the other hand, is bringing the transition described by Nye (2003) into a greater reality. China in particular is prospering. By mere virtue of scale and rates of growth, it is projected to be the biggest market in the world with its expansion of manufacturing companies alone. Even more compelling are predictions that with the rapid progress of China there will come fundamental shifts in international order, including cultural shifts and a move away from the Westernization/Americanization of the past. What then of US imperialism? Perhaps the most apt description of the role of the US superpower today is the ‘soft power’ of US influence, described by Nye. The US has been the promoter and colonizer of social networking across the world. The ‘Facebook Revolution’ of Egypt can trace back its antecedents to the US as the site for the creation of the Internet and open communication.

The recognition of the rise of China’s economic power does not imply that all imperialism is now a quixotic project. To argue for or against the existence of an imperialist power today, it is necessary to reflect on various issues of international order: structural and institutional power relations and (im)balances, forces of construction and destruction in the political and social spheres and so on. Although conventional conceptions of US imperialism embodied in military invasions and economic control are out-dated, emergent forms of cultural imperialism remain. As such, the term imperialism remains valid. This demonstrates the need to move beyond traditional core-periphery, strong-weak typologies of nation-states and their relations with each other and toward a recognition of the complex network of associations and forces. These new networks reach across governments and organizations (public and private; political, economic or social). Scholars in the field of political science, history and other social sciences concerned with debates on international order would do well to move beyond traditional conceptions of power and influence – away from assigning formal rule or overt conflict as signifiers of an imperialist project. By refusing to move beyond these terms, analysis in this field is bound by a “theoretical tunnel vision” that is not grounded in evolving events.

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