China is not seeking hegemony, here is why

By Tom Fowdy
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, April 23, 2021
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Photo taken on April 17, 2021 shows the Boao Forum for Asia International Conference Center in Boao Town, South China's Hainan province. [Photo/Xinhua]

At the Boao Forum for Asia, a regional summit for government, business and academia typically hosted in Hainan province, China said that it does not seek hegemony and that it does not strive to displace the United States, only seeking fairness and justice in the international system.

This came amid the Western mainstream media repeatedly framing Washington and Beijing as being in a competition for global dominance. Unfortunately, this view is shared by many politicians in the United States increasingly depicting China as a threat and a strategic competitor – espousing the language of the Cold War.

What is hegemony? In international relations, a hegemon is a state that wields so much undisputed power that has almost complete dominance over other states and is subsequently able to impose its will on them. The term derives from ancient Greek and means authority, rule and political supremacy. It was first used to describe the dominance of city states such as Athens, Sparta and Thebes over other city states. In the modern world it is used to describe a country that enjoys global dominance and has been frequently been invoked to describe the position of the United States since 1991.

However, the rise of China has led most of the world to perceive Beijing as a competitor to American hegemony. With China being the world's second largest economy, possessing a large population, making technological advances and leading global programs, it has become common to perceive China's intentions of seeking to "displace" the United States as the dominant global power, and Washington increasingly treats it as such. 

While of course the rise of China poses inevitable implications for the global balance of power, the claim that Beijing seeks conflict with the U.S. and control of the global order is misleading. Such a view does not accurately portray China's goals and intentions.

China's longstanding position is that it has no interest in becoming the predominant hegemon. Such a position has never been in China's national interest or worldview. First of all, the foreign policy of China is built on a longstanding tradition of "anti-hegemonism" related to the non-aligned movement and the "three worlds theory." China firmly rejected "power blocs" and alliance systems, rebuffing hegemony and preferring multilateralism, as well as the principle of non-interference.

Although the world has changed, this thinking still remains relevant today. For example, China continues to reject the concept of military orientated alliances, which is the foundation of hegemony. Other than that, while China builds strategic partnerships, it maintains a longstanding tradition of avoiding military alliances "targeted at another country," and continues to prefer multilateral diplomacy as its primary form of engagement. 

It should be obvious that China is not making an effort towards attaining global dominance. China prefers a non-aligned view of sovereignty and does not actively seek to manipulate politics overseas or shape other countries into its image. 

Given this, China does not seek hegemony. Often China's schemes, such as the Belt and Road Initiative, or its vaccine assistance to other countries, are interpreted as acts of seeking hegemony, but in reality, these programs are a part of China's longstanding contributions to the Global South. These efforts are not a zero-sum competition with the United States to become the world's most dominant country. 

Instead, China's immediate goals have always concerned advocating a "peaceful rise" aimed at securing its own prosperity and development, and subsequently is now lending that opportunity to other countries too as a multilateral initiative. That is not about seeking to displace America. 

China still keeps the door open to the United States and remains willing to advocate constructive and stable ties.

Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain and the U.S. For more information please visit:

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