China’s immense population and recent economic growth have caused many to believe that China will soon equal American dominance and might become the world’s number-one super-power for much of the 21st Century.
I don’t think so. China has problems that are so intrinsic and so massive that they not only can’t be overcome but probably can’t even be endured.
• On the geopolitical side, China’s insatiable appetite for natural resources will render China a very unreliable “partner”.
For example, the China Daily Mail reported in “Russia and China’s alliance is an illusion; each wants to dominate the other” that, Russia and China recently signed a $400 billion dollar natural gas deal which Vladimir Putin described as the “biggest contract in the history of the gas sector of the former USSR.” This deal seems like a “natural” since Russia is the world’s largest producer of natural gas and China is the world’s greatest consumer of natural gas. In fact, we can reasonably wonder why that deal hadn’t been inked much sooner.
The China Daily Mail explains:
“The deal does get to American fears that Russia, pushing away from Europe after the Ukraine crisis, could team up with China against the Western world.
“But the idea of a world-changing Russia-China alliance is poppycock. The natural gas deal doesn’t augur an anti-American alliance in the near term. Even in the long term, no such alliance is likely. Russia and China have a marriage of convenience, not any kind of more durable partnership. And sometimes, that turns into conflict: the two nations see each other as both potential partners and potential threats.”
China’s massive population and growing appetite for the fruits of economic success (like flat-screen TVs and automobiles) are insatiable and probably impossible to satisfy in the long run without engaging in violent conquest of foreign nations. The nations most likely to be attacked by China are those closest to China—which include Russia, Japan, Viet Nam, and even India. But those nations aren’t likely to be attacked unless they have ample natural resources. Japan and even India don’t have enough natural resources to justify a Chinese invasion.
But Russia does.
More, Russia’s population of 140 million is only about one-tenth the population of China. Russian population density is about 9 people per square kilometer. China’s population density is about 144 per square kilometer—about 16 times as great as Russia. Russia’s low population density creates a political “vacuum” that practically begs to be filled by China’s excess population.
Finally, China and Russia share the world’s sixth longest border. If China were to invade some nation in Africa there’d be a huge logistical problem of moving Chinese soldiers from China to Africa. If China were to invade Russia, there’d be little or no logistical problems. It would be much like the U.S. invading Canada.
1) China’s need for natural resources/ Russia’s abundance of natural resources;
2) China’s high population/ Russia’s low population;
3) China’s high population density/ Russia’s low population density;
4) The close proximity of China to Russia;
5) A 400 year history of repeated border disputes and wars between China and Russia—
It seems almost inevitable that China—once it’s nuclear arsenal matches Russia’s—would one day invade Russia.
The Russian government must be constantly aware of that growing possibility. Russia’s gas deal with China may be historic, but it won’t overcome other factors that incline China to eventually invade Russia and will not create a genuine alliance between the two nations.
(Incidentally, there’s at least one other nation in fairly close proximity to China that has a low population, lots of open land, lots of natural resources, and not much in the line of nuclear weapons: Australia.)
• In another report (“Seven problems that China’s large economy can’t solve”) The China Daily Mail warns that although China may have already topped the U.S. as the world’s largest economy, there are a number of of major problems that China can’t overcome, including:
- “Pollution. According to China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, only three of 74 Chinese cities monitored by the government met minimum standards for air quality last year.”
California has reported measurable increases in pollution whose sources were ultimately traced to China. China’s air pollution is so bad that it can cross the Pacific Ocean. You can imagine how bad that pollution must be at its source within China. It’s certain that Chinese life-expectancy will fall, medical costs will rise and Chinese industrial capacity may be reduced.
- “Corruption. China continues to crack down on corruption involving state officials enriching themselves through bloated government projects and outright theft. Last year, China punished 182,000 officials for corruption and abuse of power, a 13 percent increase over 2012.”
Punishing 182,000 government officials for corruption in a single year not only indicates widespread corruption, it also suggests that the Chinese government is divided between two or more “gangs” competing for control over the whole country. The “gang” that’s in power is punishing those who aren’t (really) “connected”. That apparent governmental division can’t be viewed as evidence of Chinese stability. If the Chinese government is punishing many of its own members, the Chinese government is divided and less likely to stand.
If China’s government is punishing so much corruption, odds are good that the Chinese people are increasingly critical of their corrupt government. This signals another growing divide between China’s government and China’s people. That divide can’t inspire confidence on China’s long-term stability and viability.
On the other hand, perhaps the Chinese people accept corruption as part of their culture. A willingness to take bribes to “cut corners” will usually result in sub-standard products. A corrupt people can’t build skyscrapers, aircraft or computers that work reliably. To the extent that the Chinese culture tolerates and embraces corruption, China will not rise to the level of a great power.
- “Censorship. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, China is wary of the free press’ ability to foment social unrest, and therefore employs strategies like pushing pro-government propaganda into news stories, conducting surveillance of email chat, deploying an Internet police force and using the “great firewall” of China to muzzle dissent and freedom of expression.”
Thus, China’s government demonstrates that it fears the Chinese people; that the Chinese government regards China as so unstable that even a small political disturbance could flare up into massive unrest or even civil war.
Any government (including our own) that fears and/or suppresses free speech is a government that’s afraid of its people. It’s doubtful that such nations are stable.
China’s censorship suggests that the Chinese government’s relationship to the Chinese people is increasingly adversarial. The people and government increasingly distrust each other. The people have seen automobiles and demand the freedom and prosperity to buy one; the government wants to maintain control over the people. That tension will tend to weaken or even divide China.
- A slowing economy. According to MoneyNews, China’s resource-dependent and manufacturing-heavy provinces suffered the sharpest growth slowdown in the first quarter as China pushed to reduce overcapacity and pollution, “adding to signs of protracted weakness in the economy.”
Insofar as China is “resource-dependent,” it must acquire more natural resources from foreign nations by peaceful trade or military conquest. China must expand its global power and influence in order to acquire the resources it doesn’t have. This implies that China must either become more militarily aggressive or risk an internal collapse.
- “Dangerous nationalism. TheChina Digital Timesreports that China has become more aggressive in territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas, often deploying navy ships and emphasizing their oil and gas prospects in the region.”
More precisely, China is not engaging in “territorial” disputes. China is engaging in “resource” disputes. The Chinese government is riding an economic tiger. The Chinese people have seen and want the goods, services, and fruits of prosperity. The Chinese government doesn’t control enough natural resource to satisfy the Chinese peoples’ demands. China could collapse into overt repression or even civil war (if the Chinese people acquired enough guns).
The only way to pacify the Chinese people will be for China’s government to acquire (by hook or by crook) more natural resources. This acquisition may succeed by means of foreign trade for a while, but unless China’s population is dramatically reduced, China will never acquire enough resources by peaceful trade to meet the Chinese peoples’ demand for more goods and services.
That means: 1) China must go to war to steal the natural resources its people demand; or 2) China will disintegrate into several smaller nations.
Given that China has 53 recognized ethic groups and 292 languages, it’s hard to describe China as a singular “nation” so much as a “region” of several “states” that are all under the control of single government. How long one government can satisfy and control such diversity is unknown. That uncertainty suggests that China may be too disparate to remain controllable and stable for even another decade.
• On May 27th, the China Daily Mail (“Vietnam boat sinks after collision with Chinese vessel in South China Sea”) implicitly touched on China’s need for more natural resources:
“A Vietnamese boat has sunk after it collided with a Chinese vessel near a controversial oil rig in the South China Sea, amid rising tensions between the two nations.
“Vietnam’s coast guard said the boat was encircled by 40 Chinese vessels before it was rammed . . . . [T]he sinking is likely to further escalate tensions between the two countries . . . . The two are locked in an intensifying dispute over South China Sea territory.”
Not exactly. The dispute is not about “territory,” per se. The dispute is about natural resources—and according to some reports, not even a lot of natural resources. I.e., some reports indicate that there are only modest amounts of natural gas and/or crude oil to be found in the part of the South China Sea where China has anchored a new drilling platform.
If China is prepared to ram and sink a foreign vessel over access to only a small amount of natural gas and/or crude oil, that indicates that China is either crazy or determined to the point of desperation to acquire more natural resources.
I read China’s sinking of a Vietnamese navy vessel as more evidence that China is resource-dependent, running out of resources, and therefore desperate (or at least anxious) to acquire more natural resources at any cost in order to prevent an internal collapse of the Chinese economy and even nation.
A fundamental truth appears to be that China lacks sufficient natural resources to satisfy its huge population’s demands. If China doesn’t acquire those resources by peaceful trade or foreign war, the nation of China may disintegrate like the former Soviet Union. In order to prevent that disintegration, the Chinese government must become more overtly repressive at home to suppress the people’s urge for prosperity and/or more militarily aggressive abroad in to order to invade foreign countries to acquire the needed natural resources needed to satisfy the people’s urge.
I expect to see both strategies (domestic oppression and foreign aggression) implemented. But, either way, or both ways, China is so inherently fragile and unstable that it’s unlikely to grow into a globally-dominant power in the foreseeable future.
Within five years, ten at the most, China will be seen for what it is: a Paper Dragon.