A growing body of literature has focused on an alleged “power shift” from the United States to China (and from the West to the East more generally). For all its complexities and nuances, much of this power–shift literature continues to unreflectively hold onto a conventional way of conceptualizing power as a type of quantitatively measurable and zero–sum property possessed by the state. Without critically engaging with the conceptual question of what power means, however, the power–shift debate is both inadequate and misleading. Drawing on some alternative ways of conceptualizing power, I aim to illustrate the contingent and socially constructed nature of “Chinese” economic power and, in doing so, problematize the widely held view of a US–China power shift. I contend that insofar as power is socially constructed, how it is conceptualized matters for international relations. The need to rethink power is at the core of building a new type of major power relationship.


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pp. 387-410
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