The Demographic Delusion, why China (probably) will not succeed | Nathan Wilson
In recent years there has been much speculation about the question of when not if China becomes a superpower. This has best been shown by many academics who have named very provocative titles for their books and have also argued that China has already won and that this is already a foregone conclusion.
These individuals in the last ten years have argued concisely that China’s rise has generated a state for which meant it already had won, within the world of global superpowers, and the West (especially America) is doomed to fail. In contrast to this, there have always been individuals like Gordon Chang and Peter Zeihan who have argued religiously against this viewpoint. One of the key problems within a lot of geopolitics and international relations is that nations tend to have the view that they can only see the worst in their own systems, while only seeing the best in others. Consequently, what should happen is that we should be critical of ourselves but focus on the fact we do have significant strengths and not discount them.
In the following sections, I will not talk about Chinese financial institutions or companies like Evergrande, which is a topic that has been heavily bulldozed as of recent times. Instead, I want to write about something more imminent in geopolitics, the art of making babies.
I argue that China will never become a superpower, because of its demographics. We often hear phrases like ‘demographics is destiny’ (this is very opaque and misguided, in future articles I will explain why in relation to China, but right now on face value it remains true (the ‘Black Death’ would say no)). Such quips have often been used to predict the future of certain nations and what the world will look like in fifty-hundred years.
As such, if we look at China historically, this quip becomes clearer. During the 20th Century, when the Chinese government brought in the one-child policy, this was as a means of tackling the nation’s population boom after World War Two. Deng Xiaoping sought to use this policy, to tackle this widespread social problem within the nation. Something I must admit needed to be directly addressed, through radical government intervention. However, as Thomas Sowell once remarked “sometimes bad public policy is good public policy that has gone on for too long”, the one-child policy is a good example of this mantra, taken to the extreme.
However, an unpleasant by-product of this, we have seen is the emergence of many negative demographic trends emerging from within the nation. China for example has the biggest gender imbalance in the world, with thirty million more men than women which for context is the same size as Saudi Arabia or Peru. With some hundred and twenty men for every hundred women within the nation. The reasons for this are numerous and I will not go into them, but it is worth visually remembering such a fact when looking at this topic holistically. Alongside this, it is worth noting that China has had the bulk of all these children at the same time, this is a massive problem because as Peter Zeihan has joked, “the most expensive thing you can do for your country before you die is to retire”. China, we now see, is entering a period of mass retirement and that is when these real demographic problems will start to emerge. With the introduction of the one-child policy, what you are artificially doing is reducing your future potential labour pool for which you then use to prop up your retirement class for your newfound elderly population (now that life-expectancy has increased upwards within China).
This is always a massive social drain on both the government’s political capital and its finances and will be apocalyptic for the Chinese government, in the long run. It is worth remembering Zeihan’s mantra when this comes into effect. The overarching problem I would argue is why China will never become a superpower is because of these demographic factors. Take for example documented by Paul Colinvaux, during the period of European colonialism, nations had massive total fertility rates (TFR), which they could then use to expand as a tool to push out their national projects (colonialism, expansion, conflict etc). This was achieved through their massive youth populations, which they could use internally and to export abroad to colony’s. We in the West tend to have the view of China as being a nation of endless people and thus an endless supply of labour to use and abuse. We have seen this in the late 20th century, with regards to its manufacturing, with images of endless mass industrial output and being the so-called ‘factory of the world’. However, as we have seen with the one-child policy, China has unintentionally caused a lot of chickens to come home to roost at the same time.
The images of endless labour supplies and people are coming to end, and a lot sooner than it is being made out to be. China does not have the same demographics as the Europeans had in the 19th Century, as recently as last year the Chinese government was working on the assumption that their population could half by the year 2100. Subsequently, recent data around TFR’s and marriages have shown that this could even happen by the year 2070. In addition to this, demographers at Xi’an University have said that this could (big emphasis) happen by 2050. This has partially been inspired by individuals like Yi Fuxian and Brian Wang, who argue that China has been lying about its demographic situation, by exaggerating its total population. This has been shown with the government’s own data contradictions. This has been best documented from 2004-2009, there were over a hundred million first graders within China, something that remains consistent with the hundred and five million registered births announced between 1998-2003 from similar statistics. However, only eighty-four million children, between 7-12 years old registered for school in 2010. This is only one of many examples, using official China statistics, but it is plausible that there are 1.2 billion Chinese instead of the ‘official’ number of 1.4 billion.
Whatever really is happening under the bamboo curtain, with even the best-case scenario comes into place, this demographic collapse will place a soul-crushing burden on the central government and probably create a civilisational collapse inducing event within China. This political and economic burden would cause irreversible damage and would physically doom the nation, into a terminal demographic death spiral.
Overall, I argue that there are not enough people to prop up this so-called superpower, let alone help it too fully expand. What might be considered crazy by some, but in a nation of 1.4 billion people, is that they might be starting to run out of people.
As a result, personally alongside both Chang and Zeihan that simply, because of their demographics I argue that China is probably on the verge of being done as a nation (Russia included). It now becomes the job for Western and regional powers (AUKUS and QUAD), to both contain and restrict China, and wait them out. The collective added pressure will soon generate collapse, and the government knows this (citizenry does not). The Chinese government’s response to this, will be explored in the following article.
Our view of China must radically change, because we should stop viewing the nation as being made of billions of young healthy workers but instead as what it is on the verge of becoming, the world’s biggest retirement home. If you want a hint about what is probably one of the most unwritten tools in studying the world, it is that of demographics. The most unwritten shift is that of the ‘baby-boomers’ mass-retirement at the same time, plus the impacts this will have on the global labour pool and respective economies. As such, this will be the first part of several articles examining China and its relationship to the outside world.
The next article will examine why China has clampdown on social media, video games, and its emphasis on ultranationalism, especially when this economic and demographic collapse happens.