, Volume 92, Number 6

Brantly Womack
The period 2008 to 2015 is likely to prove a traumatic transition from the post-Cold War era of American unipolar hegemony to a new status quo of asymmetric parity between the US and China. With approximately equal masses of production and one third of the world’s total, the relationship of the United States and China will remain the focus of global politics for the foreseeable future. While parity in economic mass makes each the greatest concern of the other, their asymmetry in wealth, developmental levels, and geopolitical concerns makes unnecessary a power transition scenario. Hitherto the analysis of parity has assumed symmetry, and therefore the point of power transition and challenge is highlighted and strategy has focused on relative gain vis-à-vis the rival. With asymmetric parity the transitional moment becomes ambiguous, and it is a reasonable strategy for each side to pursue absolute gain. Sustainable asymmetric rivalry is competitive, but it can also be win-win. Moreover, neither the US nor China—nor the two together—can exercise the kind of hegemonic control that was the premise of earlier bipolar and unipolar eras. The diffuse interdependence created by globalization gives every state broader alternatives and raises the cost of hostility. The US and China do not face each other as hegemon and challenger, but rather as the largest, but quite different, players in a multinodal world that neither controls.

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