The Political-Military Foundations of China’s Global Ascendency


  • Aaron Major University at Albany - SUNY
  • Zhifan Luo University at Albany - SUNY



China, Hegemonic Transition, Political-Military


In recent years China has positioned itself as a global economic leader, working through its “Belt and Road” initiative (BRI) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), to not only expand its global economic reach, but to organize and lead global economic relations. China’s rise is largely understood in economic terms, but the history of global power dynamics suggests that such leadership is built on both economic and political-military foundations. This paper explores the structural relationship between China’s economic and political-military relationships with other states over the period 1993 to 2015. Drawing on a wide variety of data sources, we present a multi-dimensional analysis that measures the changing size of China’s economic and political-military networks, their shifting regional distribution, and the degree of coupling, or decoupling of economic ties from political-military ties. In describing these patterns, we conduct a similar analysis for the United States. This allows us to situate Chinese trends in the context of the structures of U.S. global power. Our analysis points to ways in which China’s global rise has been shaped through navigating U.S. global power. Our analysis also shows that China’s growing leadership in the global economy builds upon a set of existing political-military relationships that, while their scope and form are quite different from those that the United States built to support its hegemonic ascendency, are nevertheless critical for understanding the mechanisms by which Chinese power and influence has grown in the global political economy.

Author Biographies

Aaron Major, University at Albany - SUNY

Aaron Major is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University at Albany - SUNY. He is the author of Architects of Austerity (Standord UP, 2014) and several articles on global finance and the neoliberal turn.

Zhifan Luo, University at Albany - SUNY

Zhifan Luo is a Ph.D. candidate of sociology at the University at Albany - State University of New York. Her current project applies the technique of computer-assisted text analysis to understand the perception of China among U.S. elites.


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How to Cite

Major, A., & Luo, Z. (2019). The Political-Military Foundations of China’s Global Ascendency. Journal of World-Systems Research, 25(2), 420–448.



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