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Slow demographics will not stop China

The old adage that "demography is destiny" is no longer as valid as it once was

"China will grow old before it gets rich," is one of the things people want to say at conferences - usually followed by a dramatic break. The implication is that China's rise to global dominance will soon hit a huge barrier: demographics.

China's low fertility rate means its population will decline and age over the next few decades. Last week, the Financial Times reported that China's population had already begun to decline - a few years earlier than the United Nations (UN) had predicted.

Large, growing, and young populations have spurred the rise of nations throughout much of human history. The great powers needed fighters to position themselves on the battlefield and the citizens to be taxed. Napoleon's conquests were preceded by a "population boom" in 18th-century France. By the 20th century, the population of France was lagging behind that of Germany and Great Britain; a source of justified anxiety for the French elite.

Never richer than Americans

But population decline and aging may not have the same grim implications of the 21st century. It is unlikely that future power struggles will be resolved by vast land battles. In the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, drones played a key role on the battlefield. A recent UK strategic review led to a reduction in the military while investing heavily in technology.

If technological power, instead of hordes of young men, is the key to future power, then China is well placed. The country has top capabilities in areas such as robotics and artificial intelligence. With a population of 1,4 billion - which is likely to decline slightly by the middle of the century - China will have no shortage of manpower. It is the structure, not the size, of China's population that will be the real challenge. By 2040, about 30 percent of the country will be over 60 years old. More seniors will need to be supported by a smaller working age population, slowing economic growth.

China will never be able to reach per capita wealth levels like those in the United States. But even if the average Chinese are only half as rich as the average American, the Chinese economy would still easily surpass America in overall size.

Aged demographics

China will soon lose its title as the world's most populous nation. The populations in India and China are approximately the same. But by the end of the century, UN projections suggest that India's population will be 1,5 billion, compared to one billion in China. (Some other academic studies put China's population below 2100 million in 800). But the Indian economy is only one-fifth the size of China. So the gap between wealth and power between the two countries will not close quickly.

China's population decline has accelerated with its one-child policy abandoned in 2015. But Chinese demographic trends are quite typical of East Asia. Japan's population peaked at 128,5 million in 2010 and is now falling. The UN predicts that Japan's population will be only 75 million by the end of the century. Trends in South Korea are similar.

Population decline and aging are also occurring in parts of Europe. Italy's population has already begun to decline. Even the United States is having fun. The latest census shows that America's population is now 331,5 million - but growing at the slowest rate since the 1930s. Demographers predict that America, as well as Europe and East Asia, will soon have trouble coping with an aging population.

Demographics and politics

Overall, the world's population is expected to continue to grow from 7,8 billion people today, to about 11 billion by 2100 - with the highest growth in Africa and South Asia. Africa's population will double by 2050.

By the strength of the numbers, countries like Nigeria and Pakistan will gain global influence. But they are also likely to remain relatively poor and politically unstable - with climate change worsening prospects for much of sub-Saharan Africa. Some of the fastest growing populations are in already failing countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Niger.

Demographics will continue to shape world politics, as always. But the historical link between the growing and young population and the growing national power deviates from something more complex. The most significant divide now may be between rich and middle-income countries - where the population is static or declining - and poorer countries, where the population is expanding rapidly.

Migration - a problem or a solution?

Left unchecked, the natural corrective tendency would be mass migration from the global South to Europe, North America and East Asia. But East Asians are currently much less open to immigration than the West. Although Japan's population could be halved by 2100, the Japanese insist on social homogeneity ahead of the possibility of mass migration. China, which has an ethnically based view of citizenship, is likely to make a similar choice.

In contrast - despite current US and EU immigration policies - the West is likely to remain relatively open to migrants. As a result, Western societies will gain economic momentum. But they could also lose political stability - as anti-immigration reactions have helped spur the rise of politicians such as Donald Trump.

The big question of geopolitics will not be who has the largest population - but whether China or the West has made the right decision about mass migration.

The article was published in the weekend edition of Free Press. (01-02 May 2021) in the article SP. weekly. The text is taken from Financial Times (LONDON) with prior permission from the publisher.

Lower numbers, longer preparations for publication

China is poised to announce its first population decline, following the massive famine of the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong's disastrous economic policies in the late 1950s that killed tens of millions of people. Today's population decline comes despite the relaxation of strict family planning policies, which were supposed to reverse the decline in the birth rate in the most populous country in the world.

After the last Chinese census, which was completed in December last year but has yet to be published, the country's total population is expected to be less than 1.4 billion people, according to those available at the time of the survey. In 2019, China's population was reported to have exceeded the 1.4 billion mark.

However, insiders have warned that the figure is considered very sensitive and will not be released until more government departments reach a consensus on the data and its implications.

"The results of the census will have a huge impact on how the Chinese people view their country and how different government departments work," said Huang Wenzeng, an associate at the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based institute. "They need to be handled very carefully."

The government was due to announce the census in early April. Liu Aihua, a spokesman for the National Bureau of Statistics, said on April 16 that the delay was partly due to the need for "more preparation" before the official announcement. Such a delay is the subject of great criticism on social networks.

Taken from ФТ


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