- - Thursday, March 4, 2021

We’re told all-too-often that China has taken over the world — or at least, it’s poised to. 

Indeed, a 2002 UBS survey found that 57% of global investors predicted China will replace the U.S. as the world’s biggest superpower by 2030. From Donald Trump to Donald Tusk, an underlying sense of anxiety and resignation over China’s displacement of Western power has bubbled under the surface of policymaking for decades.

Martin Jacques’ “When China Rules the World” was the preliminary read for former Clinton Treasury Official and once-director of the National Economic Council under President Obama Larry Summers in advance of the 2010 World Economic Forum in Davos. 

The narrative of China’s unstoppable rise is one that suits the CCP’s friends and enemies alike, serving to imbue confidence in the respective markets geared toward engaging with or exposing the regime. However, as with all political forecasts, the truth is hardly so straightforward. 

China isn’t going to do quite as well as it may seem, post-pandemic. Sure, it had an enviable bounce back from pandemic-related contractions in the first quarter of 2020. But, more importantly, there was no corresponding return in their birth rate. If they’re going to succeed as the pre-eminent world power, that’s a serious hurdle to overcome.

Data released by China’s Ministry of Public Security on Feb. 10 indicated a 15% decline in births last year. In China’s wealthiest province, Zhejiang, the cities of Wenzhou and Taizhou reported that new births fell by 19% and 33%, respectively, compared to 2019. The dip is, in part, a reflection of the lasting legacies of tight fertility controls largely loosened in 2015 and the hardline coronavirus restrictions. 

Back then, at the risk of losing government homes or jobs, women were forcibly sterilized. Traditional values that favored male children led to the mass abandonment or infanticide of female babies. Hundred of millions of forced abortions were performed, sometimes over eight months into pregnancy. The traditional priority placed on bearing more children to ensure care for the elderly was vastly compromised.

A 2007 study even found significant links between the gender-ratio imbalance for young adults and male crime rates. In a survey by the Chinese website Sina.com, only 1-in-3 people indicated that they’d have a second child upon the easing of restrictions in 2015. The enduring and tragic scars of these programs, of course, aren’t merely economic. The harm done to the Chinese people will last forever.

But the government certainly didn’t win as a result, either. By 2050, over a quarter of China’s population will be of retirement age. Although most countries face such issues to some degree as life expectancy increases, cultures shift and financial constraints dictate smaller family sizes, China’s population is growing old faster than almost all other countries combined. The historic preference for extended family structure means that China does not possess a comprehensive network of senior care facilities. It has done away with the ability to provide traditional family care but failed to adequately prepare for the alternative. 

Moreover, China’s rise has largely been down to its masses of working-age low-wage human capital, that has permitted it to outstrip rival nations in manufacturing, an advantage that’ll dissolve as demographic crises approach. In fact, many experts interpret China’s vast and growing network of repression and forced labor as a direct response to the pressures of a waning population and increasing wage demands that threaten its current competitive edge — a strategy with which American trade remains directly complicit. 

The U.S. has got a long way to go if it’s going to reverse its contributions to the horrors the Chinese government is visiting upon its own people. The U.S. ban on all cotton and tomato imports from Xinjiang was a start, but the reality is that this system of forced labor underpins many more areas of the Chinese economy, and far beyond its Uighur-majority region, as is implied by the fierce lobbying of corporate giants such as Nike and Coca-Cola against the Forced Labor Prevention Act.

But that’s not a good reason to see China as the next nation to invade, which is what the Washington hawks distorting the narrative (by exaggerating predictions of Chinese global domination as an excuse to lobby for their own job security) are often after. As Richard Hanania wrote earlier this year for Palladium on the question of China’s “threat” to American hegemony, Beijing “is not on a mission to fundamentally remake the world,” but to fill its coffers by any means necessary. 

What’s there to do, then? Here’s the answer, based on a realistic view of China’s economic and political fate: We must aid and raise the voices of the regime’s victims whenever possible, and hold our authorities, private and public, to account for their complicity in China’s human rights abuses. Anything less or anything more would simply be a mistake.

• Georgia L. Gilholy is associate writer for The Foundation for Uyghur Freedom, and a contributor for Young Voices.

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