Demographic Dragon: Will China's Rise Provoke World War?By Anurag Maheshwari
China's rise as a global power is fundamentally linked to its demographic weight. Besides its ancient culture and rich heritage, China is aware that the respect and awe it is accorded throughout the world is due to its immense multitude.
Over 1.36 billion Chinese are expanding as a limitless consumer behemoth and an unprecedented reservoir for future military hegemony.
According to historians, Chinese dynastic cycle of boom and bust -- at least since the Qin-Han era -- has shown marked propensity for large-scale population migration to neighboring regions outside its suzerainty. These migratory episodes occurred both during territorial expansions as well as contractions.
This cyclical rhythm of expansion, contraction, and migration was evident during native dynasties including Qin-Han, Sui-Tang, Sung, and Ming, and acquired even larger proportions under barbarian dynasties -- Yuan (Mongol) and Qing (Manchus).
China experienced massive demographic explosion under native Sung and Ming dynasties when population doubled, and during the Qing Era, the population more than tripled from an estimated 140 million in 1650 to more than 450 million in 1901.
Demands from explosive population growth required intensive farming and timber consumption for housing/fuel, which led to soil erosion/sterility, deforestation, and environmental degradation, which exacerbated the restive peasantry and political turmoil due to the ruling elite's inability to counter negative Malthusian pressures.
Alongside barbarian invasions by northern nomads and tyrannical or impotent elite losing the mandate of heaven, dramatic population explosion has been one of the three sources of China's social and political sorrows.
Freedom from Japan and the inaugural of Communist China under the heavenly guidance of Peasant Emperor Mao led to resumption of expansionary phase in 1949. From 1949 (590 million) to 2010 (1.36 billion), the number of Chinese more than doubled, confirming the historic pattern of population explosion.
The Chinese knew their history well and this time around took action -- since the late 1960s -- to arrest this unsustainable trend before the Malthusian dragon could rear its head again.
The birth rate halved from 6 children/woman in late 1960s to 2.9 children/woman in 1978 before one-child policy was introduced in urban China to further counter the still enormous demographic momentum.
According to China's official 2010 census, the birth rates are still high at 1.8 children/woman whereas in prosperous Taiwan they have been trending toward 1.1 children/woman for last 6 years despite a considerable rural sector. In other prosperous countries steeped in Confucianism -- Singapore, South Korea, and even Japan -- the sustained trend closer to one-child per woman is unmistakable.
Although China has been able to marshal a sustained supply of energy and metals from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, it has been experiencing severe difficulties managing its scarce water and arable land resources.
The well-publicized reports in Western and even Chinese media on chronic water shortages, river and soil pollution, deforestation, and environmental catastrophe indicate that China (and the Indian subcontinent even more so) will have to achieve Taiwan-like birth rates or else this burgeoning and increasingly unsustainable consumption will become a major source of political instability and great power rivalry in Eurasia.
The diverting of rivers connecting China with the Indian subcontinent and continental Southeast Asia to quench Chinese thirst, as well as the naval and military expansion in Pacific and Central Asia for energy and agricultural land, is already making neighboring countries' populations deeply wary of China's future intentions.
Future conflicts involving China will not emanate from northern nomadic cavalry of 100,000 Huns, Turks, Mongols, or Manchus seeking silk, land, and women, but through competition for water, energy, and agricultural land to satisfy the titanic needs of 1.36 billion Chinese.
Although China's territory exceeds twice the size of the Indian subcontinent, its population is not evenly distributed throughout its territory. The six climatically inhospitable and harsh frontier provinces -- Tibet, Qinghai, Xinjiang (East Turkestan), Gansu, Inner Mongolia, and Heilongjiang (Chinese Manchuria) -- account for 60% of Chinese territory but only 10% of its population.
Ninety percent of China's population is dispersed in 40% of its territory.
This climatic and topological situation makes China's effective population density similar to that of overpopulated Japan and the Indian subcontinent. Even if China transfers another 10% (130 million) Han Chinese to the frontier provinces like cattle, a social and logistical nightmare, the population pressures in China proper will still remain volcanic.
Unlike North America and Europe, China portends demographic outflow, not inflow with neighboring regions. In the North, Siberian-Russian, South Korean, and Japanese birth rates have averaged 1.1-1.35 children/woman over last 10 years, well below that of China. North Korean birth rates are similar to China. In the West, Central Asia is sparsely populated and migratory trends are towards Russia.
In the South, the demographically explosive Indian subcontinent, containing 1.6 billion people, is separated by vast, almost impenetrable Himalayas with no history of demographic aggression towards China, whereas combined ASEAN (including candidate countries) birth rates are averaging 2.36 children/woman, a cause for concern, but not feverish alarm.
China also has the distinct advantage in that with the exception of Siberian-Russia, Kazakhstan, and Australia, it shares common racial identity with Pacific and Inner Asia, as well as shared cultural traditions with Korea, Vietnam, and, to some extent, Japan. This means that even if a substantial demographic inflow from Pacific or Inner Asia comes to pass, it will not dilute China's character.
With its periphery more or less non-aggressive, China will need successful implementation of a demographic policy that can attain Taiwan-like birth rates of 1.1 children/woman or less before 2020. Chinese (and northwestern Indians) also urgently need a well-funded, pervasive, sustained, and effective "love your daughter" campaign like the one implemented by South Korea to arrest female genocide and the catastrophic sex ratio.
There are more than 32 million excess males in China under age 20, with no prospect of finding a bride and sexual security in future. If the Chinese sex ratio does not sharply improve within a decade, the way it happened in South Korea, a major military confrontation in Asia is a growing certainty, not a futuristic fantasy.
It is also in China's interest that along with developed Japan and South Korea, it organizes a non-governmental multilateral fund which may be christened Fund-for-One-Child-Policy-in-Asia (FOCPA) to implement one-child policy in ASEAN and the Indian subcontinent through civic awareness and women's education-healthcare programs.
Unlike rapidly aging Western countries where family structure is geared towards individualism and children in a vanishing nuclear household, China (including Taiwan) and South Korea are steeped in the Confucian doctrine of filial piety. Thus they are better suited to manage their social security and pension finances if they continue to adhere to a multigenerational joint household system in a gradually aging society.
These enormous demographic pressures in China and Asia must be arrested and reversed before a diabolical struggle for water, agricultural land, and energy provokes a massive Eurasian and perhaps a World War in the not too distant future.
Andy Maheshwari (PhD) has been writing on National and International affairs since 2008. He has been published in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's The-Tech, Canada Free Press, American Thinker and Examiner.
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