China: Imperialism or Semi-Periphery?

Minqi Li

“China is currently the world’s largest economy measured by purchasing power parity. As the rapid expansion of the Chinese economy reshapes the global geopolitical map, Western mainstream media has begun to define China as a new imperialist power that exploits cheap energy and raw materials from developing countries. Some Marxist intellectuals and political groups, drawing from the Leninist theory of imperialism, argue that the rise of monopoly Chinese capital and its rapid expansion in the world market have turned China into a capitalist imperialistic country.
Whether China has become an imperialist country is a question of crucial importance for the global class struggle. I argue that although China has developed an exploitative relationship with South Asia, Africa, and other raw material exporters, on the whole, China continues to transfer a greater amount of surplus value to the core countries in the capitalist world system than it receives from the periphery. China is thus best described as a semi-peripheral country in the capitalist world system.
The real question is not whether China has become imperialistic, but whether China will advance into the core of the capitalist world system in the foreseeable future. Because of the structural barriers of the capitalist world system, it is unlikely that China will become a member of the core. However, if China does manage to become a core country, the extraction of labor and energy resources required will impose an unbearable burden on the rest of the world. It is doubtful that such a development can be made compatible with either the stability of the existing world system or the stability of the global ecological system.

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