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China Is A Dying Paper Dragon
Don’t rejoice – China’s death throes will be a danger to us all.
The global order is ending and is being replaced by an accelerating disorder obvious to any observer of international affairs. The old order of warring empires was destroyed by World War II, so the United States and its allies met in 1944 at Bretton Woods to decide what would replace it. There, the victorious Americans laid the foundations of today’s order, a system that would contain the Soviet Union’s empire in a Cold War, initiate globalization, and bring us 75 years of prosperity and growth unmatched in human history. That globalization is now giving way to a disorder that will change the world and end the Communist Peoples Republic of China.
The Bretton Woods deal that America made with its allies was simple. First, the American market would be open to all its allies. Second, the United States and its navy, the most powerful fleet the world had ever known, would guarantee the safety of all ocean supply chains. And third, in exchange for that largesse the allies would side with us against the Soviet Union. China joined that system in 1980 and together with cheap labor, industrial espionage, and intellectual property theft rapidly became the workshop of the world. Not only was China the most populous country in the world, it promised to overtake the United States economy, become the world’s leader in technology, and dominate the emergent global world order. Those dreams are now being terminated by the impacts of demographics, geography, and “Xi Jinping thought.”
Xi Jinping became General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 2012 and President the following year. Along the way to becoming China’s dictator for life, Xi systematically eliminated everyone who could possibly challenge him, whether party members, government officials, or billionaire leaders of industry. Prominent individuals and even CCP members were jailed or just disappeared.
Then, in 2017, the 19th Party Congress amended the CCP constitution to include Xi’s political thinking: “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” as well as his “Belt and Road” project. With such a background, it is understandable that no one, whether party member or private citizen, dares suggest to Xi that he modify his policies lest they too, “disappear.” Disappearing also makes it understandable why Xi’s “Zero Covid” policy would result in workers sanitizing airport runways. Or that Xi’s anger about U.S. computer chip sanctions would result in China sanctioning Micron, a major chip supplier for Chinese industry.
And who would dare to disagree with attacking Taiwan to satisfy Xi’s “One China” policy? Who would tell him that an attack on Taiwan could result in boycotts and international sanctions on China, just like sanctions imposed on Russia for attacking Ukraine? Since China cannot feed itself and has no substantial sources of domestic energy, sanctions would curtail China’s importation of food and energy, leading to famine and power disruptions that will accelerate the deindustrialization of China. We have seen other dictators lead their country to destruction because of a psychotic insistence on obedience to their ideology. Nevertheless, irrational or not, there is one thing that members of Xi’s personality cult cannot make disappear, and that is China’s demographics.
Last year India surpassed China as the world’s most populous nation. That might be a marginal consideration until specifics are examined. The fact is, China’s population fell for the first time in 60 years, and China is now the fastest-aging nation in human history. As most know, the population replacement rate is 2.1 children per woman. China’s 2011-2020 census (as far as CCP numbers can be trusted) shows their replacement rate is 1.3 at best. Peter Zeihan has reported the replacement rate of women in highly populated urban areas like Shanghai is 0.7! Here is a demographic chart of China:
Now here is the chart for India, the nation whose population surpassed China last year:
Replacement rates, and these charts, tell us that China’s demographic collapse will occur within one generation – within a human lifetime! China’s worker-age population peaked in the last decade, and by 2050 will be less than half of what it was in 2020. The population collapse of China is not just starting, it is happening right now! And what will happen when China, at the end of the longest supply chains on the planet, cannot import sufficient amounts of fertilizers, food, energy and other basics because the United States no longer protects those supply chains? The Chinese navy, despite all the hype, cannot protect the cargo ships China must have from pirates, privateers, and unfriendly nations along those lengthy sea lanes. Neither can China’s navy protect Chinese exports.
Wall Street is beginning to catch on too. Ruchir Sharma, chairman of Rockefeller International, said: “something is rotten in the Chinese economy.” Observers have noted that the unemployment level of young Chinese is now 20% and growing. Chinese millionaires know it too. The Henley Private Wealth Migration Report stated China will have a 13,500 net loss of millionaires in 2023. The yuan and Chinese stock indexes are tumbling this year, with commentators calling China’s expected post-Covid rebound a “charade,” and some are even predicting China is headed for a “lost decade.”
Insulated as he is, even Xi Jinping must see some economic news. The Belt and Road initiative (BRI) he established to guarantee China’s access to raw materials, food and energy is failing. Forbes reported CSIS calling it a “Global Trail of Trouble,” and noted it “has lost support amid the scandals, debt traps and failed projects that have emerged in recent years. Countries along the corridors are now operating with far more caution and scrutiny, pumping the breaks on many projects and potentially setting the BRI back for years to come.” Those are years China no longer has.
Further evidence of the growing economic maelstrom is the Chinese debt to GDP ratio and the level of private credit. The United States debt ratio, after spending trillions in the last two years, was 123.4% of GDP in December 2022. Chinese debt is now 279.9% of GDP. The growth of private credit in China beggars belief, making ludicrous any notion the yuan could ever challenge the dollar as a global reserve currency.
Chart courtesy of Zeihan on Geopolitics
The connections between China’s demographics, geography, and economy are becoming obvious. No workers, no products – not even dishwashers and refrigerators, let alone an army, a navy, jet aircraft, satellites, and rockets to establish bases on the moon. No imports of food and energy for any one of several likely reasons – immediate famine and economic collapse.
Demographics don’t lie. China is a dying paper dragon.
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