The Achilles’ Heel: Is China is a Flawed Global Power? – Conservative Article
China is unquestionably on the rise. A quite remarkable ascension given the Chinese position during the ironically named ‘Great Leap Forward’ from 1958 to 1962. I, on this very platform, have called the 21st century ‘the Chinese century’. However, as the title belies, the Chinese juggernaut is not without its Achilles’ heels.
I do not think that China is capable of being on par with, or surpassing, the United States, as things currently stand. Is Beijing capable in the long-run? Absolutely. A Sino-centric world is the historical status quo, after all. However, there are some deep structural issues that are impeding them at present. Beijing has some serious work to do.
China’s nightmarish legacy of communism under Mao has not only left them with many literal skeletons, but also many spectres that are still playing out. The famous Chinese ‘one-child policy’ has led to some serious ticking time-bombs: (1) age profile, and (2) gender profile. In short, the population is old and male dominant. This is a problem.
First up, age.
China’s population is ageing, and quickly. It is the most rapidly ageing population in modern history. This is a huge economic issue. Younger individuals, in economic terms, provide far more value and spend more than older ones. It is the young that are the backbone of the labour force. It is the young that start businesses, spend large sums, and – crucially – pay far more tax.
The growing number of retirees, and the dwindling number of taxpayers, will put a significant financial strain on the Chinese government. The CCP, in comparison to its more developed counterparts, has very little experience in providing social services to an ageing population. This squeeze on the public purse will draw money away from stimulus packages that may prove vital to escape the looming ‘Middle Income Trap’ (MIT).
The MIT is where “countries cannot make a timely transition from resource-driven growth, with low-cost labour and capital, to productivity-driven growth” – unable to compete with low-income, low-wage economies, and their exports, nor the technical innovations of highly skilled economies.
However, you may be thinking that there are many other countries that are ageing, so what’s the problem? You’d be absolutely right on that count: Japan, Sweden, Germany, and others, are all steadily growing old. Yet, they all have one thing in common with each other: they are already developed countries, and China is not.
It is also a social one. This trend will pit those who give and those who take against each other.
Far from predicting an all-out period of civil strife, this, I think, is more akin to another straw on the camel’s back. It will not be overly problematic to the CCP in-and-of-itself, but it certainly adds to possible disillusionment with the Faustian bargain that the Chinese people have struck: to give up liberty for prosperity.
If prosperity starts to wane, they may renege on that deal.
Next is gender.
The one-child policy of the CCP was also responsible for the horrendous practice of female infanticide. Clearly, morally, this practice is beyond abhorrent; there is not much more to say, or explain, on this count.
Yet, even now, after China has moved away from the one-child policy, this genocide still echoes a huge gender imbalance. Even the CCP recognises this, calling it the most serious problem of its kind in the world. There are roughly 118 men to every 100 women in the country. When multiplied out to a population of over 1.4 billion people, that leaves tens of millions of men without the possibility of partnership.
The main problems with this are social ones. A large disparity in the ratio between the sexes often leads to social instability.
According to Time, by now, in 2020, there are 24 million Chinese males of marrying age unable to find wives. The ramifications of being “perpetually lonely, sexually unfulfilled, and depressed” are hard to quantify, but easy to see. One forum notes the following connected issues with surplus males: (1) increased violence; (2) increasing prevalence of prostitution & STDs; and (3) even historical links to Chinese rebellions.
It is easy to disregard the intangible problems of the psyche, but you do so at your peril. The CCP is certainly not. They are deeply concerned by what is in the offing, knowing that their current grip on totalitarian power rests upon stability & economic prosperity. The very things that their previous policy has jeopardised.
Furthermore – and I would like to pre-emptively apologise for stating the obvious – the gender imbalance will compound the age problem: only women can have the needed babies! This is a spiral that will take some decades to rectify.
So, what has been the point of this article?
It is a small attempt to swim against the tide of those predicting total Chinese hegemony. I think there are real structural problems there, that are extremely time-sensitive. Beijing needs to nip any negative momentum in the bud: political buy-in from the population, foreign investment, and its economy depend on it. Should these aforementioned aspects get out of hand, the CCP may lose its white-knuckled grip.
This is not a total “hedging-against” China’s future prosperity. Many have bet and lost against the PRC in the past. Heavily. Rather, this is a cautionary tale. Much like Achilles was offered a long life in anonymity, or a short life of infamy, the monumental rise of the CCP’s China may shadow the latter. Stay tuned, folks.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Alexander Dennis
Point of Information
A real problem for China – A Liberal Response
Alexander’s article raises a number of very accurate points. China’s one-child policy caused serious problems for the country. As my colleague states, China has a population that is imbalanced both in terms of gender and age. And, there is no quick and easy fix for the CCP; the problems caused will take decades to rectify. Many of the economically active population have to deal with the ‘four-two-one’ problem, whereby a generation of only children have to support two parents and four grandparents.
This is something that the CCP is deeply concerned about, as Alexander mentions, and something that they will have to devote considerable resources to if they are to keep their support. It is clear that the very policy enacted has, and will continue to, cause problems for the CCP.
Written by Senior Liberal writer, Fergus Harris
Socially and economically, hindsight will prove invaluable – A Labour Response
This article raises incredibly valid points about China’s ‘one-child policy’. Alexander correctly asserts that its impact will be felt economically, socially, and politically.
Even in 1979, when the policy was initially introduced, there were evident social problems. Alexander is right to name the practice of female infanticide as just one issue that reflects misogyny across the globe on an extreme, horrific, and immoral scale. The CCP was surely not naïve enough to not think of this issue in the policy’s creation so, for me, it puts the entire morality of the party into question.
Say they did choose to overlook this problem and the many other social issues, this policy designed as a quick fix for overpopulation has issues beyond this, as Alexander explores. I am confident that the CCP did not account for its political and economic impact, particularly the effect of an aging population on production and growth in China. Now, they must deal with the consequences.
Whether or not we will witness a complete slow in production in China is yet to be determined. I don’t think we can underestimate China’s position as a growing global power. However, I do know that the CCP will be using a lot of hindsight in their deliberations to combat their current problem of an aging population.
What does hindsight say to me? The ‘one-child policy’ was doomed to fail society from the start. Perhaps they got their calculations wrong and initially, the policy was thought of as beneficial to the economy. Either way, the social impact cannot be overlooked.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo
Hello, I’m Alexander Dennis, and I am going into my third undergraduate year at the University of Exeter. I study Politics & International Relations, with a possible year abroad hanging in the balance. My particular interest in politics really started in early 2016: yes, it was ‘Brexit’. I was at once intrigued, and confused, by something so critical. From that baptism, I have become somewhat addicted to political discussion, intrigued by issues ranging from drugs policy to taxation. So I followed my nose: I applied for a degree in the subject.
I am a second year student reading History and International Relations at the University of Exeter. After my degree, I am hoping to do a Journalism MA.
I’m Abi! I am a liberal, political enthusiast from the Welsh valleys. Since I was young, I have been captivated by politics. I used to spend so much time watching the morning news before school, and have paid close attention to political campaigns for as long as I can remember. It was a lot later that I decided I wanted to pursue politics academically. Now, I have just finished my second year studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Exeter.