Rethinking globalization and the transnational capitalist class: a corporate network approach toward the China-U.S. trade war and inter-imperialist rivalry




Chen, David

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The arrest of Meng Wanzhou and the Huawei prosecution have revealed a mounting battle for high-tech supremacy between the United States and China. The ongoing technology war and the trade war are merely one dimension of a far-reaching and accelerating imperialist rivalry. The changing reality on the world stage has urged a reconsideration of the thesis of transnational capitalist class (TCC) and theory of globalization in general. By reviewing the historical debate between the globalist and critical realist schools, I argue that William Carroll’s theoretical frame of global capitalism grounded in corporate network research through emphasizing a dialectical process of the ‘making’ of the TCC is better equipped to explain the unfolding Sino-U.S. conflict. Following Carroll’s multilayered approach to corporate network research, I conduct a corporate network analysis to examine the directorate interlocks of 40 Chinese transnational corporations (TNCs) selected from the Fortune Global 500 list. My study has found that the transnational networks of Chinese TNCs have remained considerably sparse, contained within condensed national networks. The globalization of Chinese TNCs and Chinese corporate elite has been modest and has not undermined or replaced the national base. This is due to two crucial reasons: the statist character of Chinese capitalist class and the regionalized development of global capitalism and class formation. In concordance with Carroll’s network research of Western companies, my study of corporate China reaffirms the fragility of the TCC, its internal friction, and potential decomposition. It also provides a material ground for analyzing the Sino-U.S. inter-imperialist rivalry as a structural development out of global capitalism and its class relations. My thesis study, therefore, offers the first attempt to draw a direct linkage between corporate network formation and geopolitical conflict.



transnational capitalist class, corporate network research, globalization, capitalism, transnational corporations, trade war, Huawei, China, rising powers, geopolitics, international relations, twenty-first century imperialism, empire, peace and war, postmodernism, dependency theory, world-system theory