If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking the future was much better before it happened.
In the future we were promised that as Communist China grew richer it would also grow less Communist. The thinking went that Chinese citizens would demand political liberalization in accordance with economic liberalization. We saw it happen in the Republic of China on Taiwan, peacefully and gradually, so there was good reason to think it could happen to the Communist People’s Republic.
Needless to say, the Butchers of Beijing didn’t get the message. Under Communist Party strongman Xi Jinping, Communist China isn’t just more politically repressed than at any time since Mao, but it has the money and resources to act like the world’s biggest international bully.
As we discussed in the first part of this essay — “The New Cold War: Assessing China’s True Strengths” — Xi seems like a bully in a hurry, picking fights any and everywhere he can.
Xi likes to portray himself as smart and patient, but lately, his reckless actions have dispelled that image.
Why the rush?
Communist China has three systemic weaknesses, and each has the possibility to make the other two worse in what could become a cascading failure for the world’s second-largest economy (and the first-largest collection of CCP bully boys).
The first problem is best put crudely.
This New York Post story is three years old, but it highlights at least two of Communist China’s systemic weaknesses:
The Chinese military says excessive masturbation and too many video games are among the reasons its physical-test failure rates have reached an “alarming high.”
The People’s Liberation Army is now dishing out advice after one city saw more than half its candidates — 56.9 percent — fail their physicals, according to the BBC.
PLA found that 8 percent of candidates failed because of abnormalities found in their scrotum from sitting too much. Another 25 percent flunked because of blood and urine tests.
These are the actions of young men who aren’t getting any action. That’s a situation created by Beijing’s former One-Child policy, and exacerbated by Chinese cultural preference (driven largely by past economic necessity) for male children.
Communist China’s birthrate is stalled below 1.7, or well below the replacement rate of 2.2.
Even Beijing’s warm relations with Moscow might be less than they appear. Elizabeth Buchanan wrote for The Strategist last week that “There’s no (new) China–Russia alliance.”
The key bit is here:
Moscow and Beijing may have clear overlapping interests, but there’s clear tension between their values. Even when their values did align through communism during the Cold War, the two failed to forge a lasting alliance and friction resulted in the Sino-Soviet split.
History provides all we need to know about the characteristics of Russia–China ties and it’s difficult to foresee a scenario in which they can move beyond their current arrangement.
Siberia’s depopulating but mineral-rich countryside must be a temptation for Beijing that only Moscow’s nukes prevent them from taking.
Most importantly is Communist China’s economic vulnerability.
The mainland is excellent at assembling other country’s high-tech products, usually with the most complex components sourced from abroad.
Think of the iPhone. As I wrote for our VIPs back in April:
The smartphone in your pocket is a similar marvel on a larger and even more complicated scale. Resources from Africa, South America, and elsewhere get converted into LCD or OLED screens in South Korea, accelerometers and gyroscopes in Europe, cameras in Japan, computer chips in Taiwan, Japan, and the United States, specialty glass in North Carolina, and milled aluminum cases in China, where the final product is assembled. From there the phones are shipped around the world on jet aircraft typically manufactured by Boeing in the United States or Airbus in Europe. All of this runs on energy drilled or fracked and then piped or shipped from the Middle East, Russia, and the Americas.
The iPhone is a high-margin device, but Communist China puts very little into it other than low-margin assembly. Same thing with consumer goods: China can make OK-quality goods on the cheap, but as soon as you get into higher-margin or higher-quality stuff, most of the work goes elsewhere.
To put it another way: The most complicated things to manufacture for public use are cars and commercial jets. Is there anyone in the world clamoring to buy a Chinese car or fly on a Chinese jetliner?
What this means is, as mighty as China’s place is in the manufacturing supply chain, that position is entirely dependent on other nations remaining tolerant of Beijing’s bullying ways, because low-margin assembly can be done almost anywhere.
From the nascent Boycott China movement, to Apple moving iPhone assembly to Vietnam and India and Brazil, to India just this week banning dozens of Chinese mobile apps as data thieves and security risks, there are signs that the world’s patience is running thin.
The Wuhan virus epidemic probably did more than any military action to highlight Beijing’s bullying ways, as I detailed last April in a piece headlined, “Beijing Using Red Tape to Slow Export of Critical Medical Supplies to the U.S.”
Beijing’s lies and weaponization of the epidemic have been thoroughly documented there and in many other pieces here at PJMedia, so I won’t bore you with a full recitation.
Communist China faces a triple threat:
• A demographic time bomb ticking down on a country growing old before it grows rich
• Examples of how Chinese can prosper and enjoy democracy both in Hong Kong and in the Republic of China on Taiwan
• Most importantly, perhaps, a world grown wise (if belatedly) to the CCP’s bullying nature and thieving ways
China’s demographic problems make Hong Kong and Taiwan look all the better in comparison. One hundred million young men with no future and, frankly speaking, no access to sex might just look anywhere but the CCP for examples of better governance.
Beijing, needing to look tough, resorts to bullying.
But doing so risks alienating the very trade partners Beijing relies upon to keep the people satisfied with Communist rule.
That’s not to say that Communist China is doomed. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” was true when Burke said it back in the 18th century and it’s still true today.
What I do mean to say is that Communist China has weaknesses we have mostly failed to exploit, and strengths that are largely dependent on the very same peaceful global order Beijing is desperate enough to disrupt.
There’s danger there, as a smart player like Xi could tell you, but opportunity, too.