Abstract: There is an increasing convergence in the international relations literature around the idea that changes in the world economy during the last decades are reshaping the international order; although the outcome of such a reconfiguration is yet unclear, many scholars argue that a dispute over global hegemony is already underway. At the same time, drawing on realist and neorealist approaches, international cooperation can be seen as a means to gain legitimacy and tighten alliances. In this framework, this article analyses three cooperation regimes as terrains of dispute to expand—or maintain—international leadership. The first, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Agenda, reflects mainly the attempt to maintain the legitimacy of the United Nations system and the multilateral institutions that make up the traditional cooperation regime. This framework still responds to Western interests, despite China’s efforts to contest and contain US influence. The second, South–South cooperation, wrapped up in the rhetoric of horizontality and common challenges, is the privileged terrain of middle powers and emerging countries, aiming at increasing regional influence. Finally, the third scheme, International Cooperation for Structural Transformation, is China’s new development doctrine and the fulcrum of its struggle to promote itself as a successful new model for global development. In my conclusions I reflect on the opportunities that the co-existence of different regimes offers for developing countries, as well as the challenges that they continue to face in their search for autonomous development paths.
Keywords: 2030 Agenda; development cooperation; hegemony; liberal order; Global South; South–South cooperation