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Interview with Giovanni Arrighi (Berlin, 2005)

The interview with Giovanni Arrighi below was conducted on 12 November 2005, at the Kapitalismus Reloaded” international conference held in Berlin.  It is published in English here today to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Arrighi’s death.

A. Fathollah-Nejad (AFN): Does the West have to fear China?

G. Arrighi (GA): I don’t think so.  I mean I think that there is no question that the Chinese are sincere when they say that they are for a peaceful ascent, that they are against hegemony. [. . .]  I think that’s also part of the Chinese tradition. [. . .]  On the basis of a very simple calculation, China has nothing to gain by being militarily aggressive and everything to lose.  The only thing it [the West — AFN] has to fear is the redistribution of power, and there’s no reason why this should translate into an aggressive China.

AFN: What about the rest of the world?  Would it have a better outcome with a Far Eastern hegemony led by China?

GA: Well, the Chinese doesn’t want to talk about hegemony.  But let’s put it this way: I think that the rest of the world, particularly the South — but also the North — should be better off with a multipolar world, where economically there isn’t just one locomotive like the United States but there are more than one.  And at this moment, certainly in East Asia — including Japan — it is the Chinese who are driving the recovery and keeping the expansion going on.  So I think the rest of the world is probably better off.  But the qualification is that this would be more the case if the Chinese don’t imitate the energy-wasting and energy-consuming pattern of consumption of the West.  If they develop more or less a sort of energy-saving kind of techniques, then that would be the best.  Who knows!

AFN: The greatest obstacle to Far Eastern hegemony seems to be the absence of a Sino-Japanese partnership.  Is this realistic in the future?

GA: It’s very hard to tell.  I mean both the Chinese and the Japanese have always privileged a kind of alliance or relationship with the United States than one between each other.  But again, it depends on what the United States will do in the Far East. [. . .]  Japan will go along with an aggressive U.S. stance towards the continuing Chinese growth.  So it’s possible, but for now it’s not likely; maybe it can be more likely in the future.

AFN: What does the dispossessed South have to do to change its present situation?

GA: I think the most important thing is to create and strengthen South-South links.  They don’t need to de-link from the North, they just have to strengthen mutual links and go on operat[ing] — what they are already doing [. . .] more or less — and that will probably change the situation in the South.

AFN: Some say that now there are a lot of tensions among Western countries when it comes to imperialism.  Others say that imperialism is for the sake of stabilization of their joint world domination.  What is your favorite argument?

GA: I don’t think that they are any dangers of so-called inter-imperialist rivalries between the United States and Europe.  The question is really how Europe and the United States — jointly or separately — relate to the South and the East: whether they accommodate the emergence of new so-called poles and powers, or whether they want to keep things as they are.  Because that’s probably the most dangerous thing: the attempt to [. . .] prevent economic rise of China. [. . .]  This can only lead to military adventures worse than Iraq.

AFN: Thank you very much.

Giovanni Arrighi (7 July 1937 – 18 June 2009) was Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Global Studies in Culture, Power and History at Johns Hopkins University.  Among his many publications are The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times; Chaos and Governance in the Modern World System (with Beverly J. Silver); The Resurgence of East Asia: 500, 150 And 50 Year Perspectives; Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century; “Hegemony Unraveling-I”; and “Hegemony Unraveling-II.”


Ali Fathollah-Nejad (b. 1981) is a political scientist; currently a Ph.D. researcher in International Relations at the universities of Münster (Germany) and London (School of Oriental and African Studies); author of The Iran Conflict and the Obama Administration: Old Wine in New Skins?(in German, Potsdam University Press, 2010).  In the framework of the same “Kapitalismus Reloaded” conference, Fathollah-Nejad was involved in organizing the international workshop on Power Structure Research entitled “Investigating Power and the Whereabouts of Wealth.”  His homepage is fathollah-nejad.com.




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