China has a problem,, and it's a demographic problem that is masked by the fact that the nation has such a huge population ... for now. Mark Steyn lays it out.
In 2006 I wrote an international bestseller about demography. Which is harder to do than you might think. But it was leavened with Dean Martin gags and whatnot. Nevertheless, it made some big-picture points:
Will China be the hyperpower of the 21st century? Answer: No. Its population will get old before it's got rich.
That's a cute line. I've been using it since the dawn of the millennium and I've been interested to watch it catch on. A few years back, I had the pleasure of hearing Henry Kissinger use it: It sounds so much more geopolitically persuasive in his gravelly voice. And the point is a serious one: Japan's demographic crisis began after they'd got rich, which is the better way to arrange things. In China, alas, the statistics are catching up with Steynian doom-mongering:
China's population shrank last year for the first time in 70 years, experts said, warning of a "demographic crisis" that puts pressure on the country's slowing economy...
The number of live births nationwide in 2018 fell by 2.5 million year-on-year, contrary to a predicted increase of 790,000 births, according to analysis by U.S.-based academic Yi Fuxian.
Yi is at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and he's been tracking just how old China's getting:
China's median age was 22 in 1980. By 2018, it was 40. That will rise to 46 in 2030 and 56 in 2050. In the US, the median age was 30 in 1980 and 38 in 2018. In 2030, it will be 40, and 44 in 2050. India, by comparison, had a median age of 20 in 1980 and 28 in 2018.
What happened between 1980 and 2018 to make a country age that fast? Well, for two generations Chinese mothers gave birth to boys and aborted all the girls.
And here's the problem, even though the Chinese government now permits two children, the Chinese are accustomed to one child and are not changing.
China wound up with an unintended Cultural Revolution: The cultural norm of having households with multiple children faded away so totally that, even when it's no longer illegal to have two kids, very few Chinese want to; they've gotten out of the habit.
Chinese leaders may realize their self-created dilemma and that may make them dangerous.
But a comparatively large number of comparatively poor Chinese will face cruder, tougher choices. As we see in trade negotiations, China today is an aggressive and demanding power - and for very good reasons: It has to use its moment, because the moment is already passing.