Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

The US–Chinese power shift and the end of the Pax Americana

But will China be able to escape its dependency on American capital and the American security framework that facilitates global trade?

By Christopher Layne, Texas A&M University

In this article, I show that far from consenting to be bound by institutions and rules of the Pax Americana, China is already working to recast the international order in ways that favour its interests, not those of the United States. The US foreign policy establishment does not grasp this, and, instead, has invested the idea of a ‘rules-based, institutionalized’ international order with a talismanic quality. It claims that rules and institutions are politically neutral, and, ipso facto, beneficial for all. However, in international politics, who rules makes the rules. Rules and institutions reflect the distribution of power in the international system. A power transition is taking place in the early twenty-first century: US power is in relative decline and China is rising quickly. No international order—not even the Pax Americana—lasts forever. The liberal world order cannot survive the erosion of US hegemonic power. It is this structural change, not Donald Trump, that threatens the post-Second Word War international order’s survival. It requires a huge leap of faith to believe that a risen China will continue to subordinate itself to the Pax Americana.


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