I’ve used this blog before to cast doubts on the widespread (and frustratingly popular) conclusion that inevitably we’ve at most 10-15 years left before we have to bow to our new glorious Chinese masters, and now the mass media appears to be slowly considering the possibility that the yellow peril may have been overblown.  Both the New Ledger and Newsweek have run articles declaring ambivalence on the idea of China’s inevitable hegemony over pretty much anything. The case runs thus:

Economy: While every economy on the planet has been firebombed by the Reckoning to varying degrees, China has emerged the least scathed of all by an almost horrifically aggressive stimulus program. While it has done its job of keeping the Chinese economy spectacularly afloat in the short term, no one has yet considered the long term costs. First, keeping banks loaning no matter what was how this entire debacle began in the first place, and Chinese leaders appear skittish to turn it off lest the economy subsequently tumble. Second, keeping factories producing is good for keeping people in their jobs, but is inevitably suicidal given that the markets for these goods have evaporated overseas as western consumers are in no mood for major purchases that don’t involve discounts on the scale of the last two Black Fridays. This is on top of the fact that the markets for these goods largely don’t even exist within China. Third, all of this is being pursued in the quest to keep the Chinese economy growing at jaw-dropping rates, which everyone knows isn’t sustainable and should now be able to recognize as the textbook definition of a bubble. This is in addition to the fact that historically as wealth among the population has risen so too has agitation for political rights, the Chinese are attempting to run a very careful tightrope of keeping their citizens wealthy enough to be content but poor enough to keep them from demanding more say over their personal economics.

Politics: While everyone has spent the last few years lauding chinese economic growth and stressing the growing importance of learning Mandarin, China has yet to actually translate any of these perceptions into actual soft power. As the Newsweek article points out, despite being in attendance at every international economic and political conference of import, they have yet to take any leading roles on major issues, preferring to react to the continued leadership of the US and Europe. Their focus on domestic harmony leads to extreme measures and crackdowns (RE: Tibet and Xinjiang) that both paper over the underlying problems at home and drive the perception abroad that the Chinese government is a thuggish dictatorship. Tales of local corruption, most spectacularly in the case of the tragic collapses of numerous schools following the great Sichuan Earthquake last year, remind the rest of the world that outside of it’s glittering cities China’s standard of living is still very firmly stuck in the third world. Finally, the government is prone to spasms of aggression, and though a significant thaw is in progress over Taiwan the mainland remains wary of the island so much as breathing in the direction of any solution that isn’t reunification under the CCP, and continues to rattle the saber at India and Japan  (notably over Tamil Nadu and continuing grievances over WWII, respectively) despite the benefits and necessity of economic ties to both. This has all led to the Chinese government being deeply unpopular among western publics and thus attempts by Chinese businesses to gain stakes in natural resources from Australia to the US have collapsed into political festivals of xenophobia and mutual recrimination.

Population: The New Ledger article also points out a fact that everyone seems to have been content to ignore: China is a demographic ticking time bomb. The One-Child policy has cleansed a generation of women, slowing population growth at the cost of creating a generation of single men that will be hard pressed to support the retirement of a baby boom that makes the US’s look like a mere hiccup. Given another generation or two Chinese leaders will have fulfilled their dream of finally controlling it’s admittedly insanely huge population at the cost of becoming the new Europe, which considering that continent is slowly dying is not a favorable comparison. Even less favorable is what the Chinese political landscape will look like as the Han die off and paranoia of the other ethnicities, already high, increases in direct proportion. In either case the picture isn’t pretty.

Now this isn’t to paint a picture of continuing American, or even Western, dominance should forecasts of Chinese hegemony fail to materialize. The fact that the West has a practically colonial relationship with China, wherein we use them as our collective manufacturing base and capital reserve, has created a situation where it’s stumble, if not Fall,  will create at best a second Reckoning, at worst the next true Depression. While I wouldn’t start waving red banners around anytime soon, we’re better off working with them than against them. The alternative is economic Mutually Assured Destruction.

-We’re All In This Together