Over the next couple weeks I intend to get into China in more detail. I’ve certainly covered China in the past, sometimes discounting the idea that they pose a threat to the US today, but at other points hinting that the US-China relationship SHOULD be our main priority. There is no contradiction here. To clarify that approach, with today’s video I’m returning to my old World War 3 series. The name of the playlist is of course an SEO bid for eyeballs, but it also goes beyond that.
Regular viewers know I don’t think a new world war is coming for decades, but I do think it’s coming. It’s up to us to decide whether it comes in 50 years or 500 years. So last year, I started this series, to evaluate the chances of war, and to dive in a little on the conflicts and opportunities that will determine when this conflict happens. I like that I did three vids about a year ago, and I’m weighing in about a year later, to take a deeper dive. Last year, I pointed out why Trump wasn’t going to war with China, but he was making that future war more likely. In World War 3 II, I pointed out why Russia won’t be a major combatant in the next war, though it may be a battleground. Next I laid out the dangers of Trump’s attack on the US world order, and how it makes conflict more likely.
With today’s vid World War 3 IV, I dispel some myths about China’s rise, and point out why it can be an opportunity rather than a threat. I’ve already got the next two installments written, which dive deep into what Syria means for the US-China relationship, and why we should get out of it. I’m very pleased with how this series is developing, and like the idea of revisiting it each year. Check out this playlist I’ve built, that intersperses the vids with other relevant videos from the back catalog…
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there! In recent months we have heard a ton about China, From Trump’s trade war to Xi Jinping’s permanent presidency. But I don’t think we really talk about China seriously. Today I am going to talk about three things that almost all supposedly serious coverage of China gets wrong, and that you should look out for.
This channel’s coverage of China can seem confusing. In some videos I am very dismissive of the threat to US interests that China poses today. But in other videos I talk about how China will probably be the world’s most powerful country by the end of this century. It may look like there is a contradiction here, but there isn’t. It’s a question of timing.
US commentary on the topic seems to be split. Some folks are in a constant state of panic. Every time China surpasses the US on some metric, people come out to declare that US power is finished. That’s not how any of this works. The US has been building a world system for almost 75 years now. No matter how much Trump abuses it, this system isn’t just going to evaporate. The US economy surpassed Great Britain’s around 1900, but Britain maintained and even grew its influence for decades after that point. It took two apocalyptic wars to finally end British world leadership in the 1940s and 1950s.
This is why people who want to preserve US power should be super anti war by the way….
The other side of US commentary goes way too far in the other direction. We hear things about how China is getting old before it’s getting rich, and how their economic model is running out of steam, or they are running out of women or whatever. This approach relies really heavily on the example of Japan. Back in the 1980s it looked like Japan was taking over the world, but they’ve been falling behind for almost 30 years now. There are some similarities between the Japanese and Chinese models, but there’s a basic question of scale that gets ignored here. China has over 10 times more people. Their economy is almost three times the size of Japan’s already, and even if the figures are fudged, the Chinese economy is still growing at 5-7% a year.
I have talked about how there’s almost certainly a large China crisis coming, but they’re going to come out the other end, probably post-Communist, in better shape not worse. China is not going to flame out. Their resources are vast. The belt and road project they are currently running includes infrastructure projects in 60 countries at a projected cost of 4 to 10 trillion dollars. FADE TO ROUGH MAP OF BELT AND ROAD. China is literally re-building the world, and their businessmen are on the ground in all of those countries profiting from all that economic growth. China has a crisis coming but it is not going to just fade away. The US race with China hasn’t even really begun yet. It’s going to be a marathon, even though US leaders are currently treating it like a fiscal sprint.
2.China is Not A generic ‘Asian country’
This one really gets to me. China is located in Asia. There are a handful of other countries in Asia that have been very successful over the past half century. Some of them have taken paths to growth that are similar to China in some small ways. There is nothing wrong with pointing out those similarities and trying to draw lessons from them.
But every Western outlet, from the Economist to the US Government goes way too far in this direction. They are addicted to making predictions or broad statements about how democracy is lagging in China based on the experience of countries like Taiwan or South Korea or Singapore.
This is just fricking nuts. Do we expect Russia’s political economy to develop along lines similar to Greece or Slovakia or Lichtenstein because they share a continent? Of course Not! We recognize that the sizes, geographical attributes, and histories of these countries will lead to dramatically different growth paths. China is not some generic “Asian Country”.
China is unique. It’s got a billion and a half people, a history as a unit that goes back longer than anybody else’s, a ruling ideology that can only be described as schizophrenic, and includes the lifestyles of urban New York City and rural sub-saharan Africa in the same country. Acting surprised that it didn’t go democratic the same way South Korea did is moronic. But you can find this kind of thinking in almost every article written on the subject.
The building consensus this year seems to be that the US screwed up by letting China into the WTO. The idea is that we were promised more progress towards democracy and free markets than we got, and China has either failed or cheated us somehow. There is a growing sense in the West that China’s communist party is going to rule China forever.
There’s a problem with this. China’s Communist party doesn’t believe that. They’d never admit it of course, but the changes to China’s system that Xi Jinping is pushing through have a very clear through line of panic. They know their rule is more threatened today than it ever has been. And it’s the Chinese people that threaten it.
That’s the issue that this whole Xi Jinping is the new Chairman Mao narrative tries to hide. As recently as the 1960s China was a terrifying authoritarian nightmare state. During the Cultural Revolution gangs of Red guards rampaged through the country, attempting to erase China’s history, and brutalizing China’s intellectual and administrative class. The world’s largest and oldest country was at the mercy of the whims of one senile old man, Chairman Mao.
China today is completely transformed. It is home to the world’s largest middle class. They want, and largely get the same things that people want in developed countries everywhere. ENVIRONMENT URBAN LIFESTYLE PATH TO WEALTH If you imagine that China’s ruling party isn’t responsive to these desires you simply haven’t been paying attention. In fact, I suspect that China’s lack of democracy has a lot to do with its Middle Class’s fear of the hundreds of millions of Chinese who have been shut out of its vibrant consumer economy. The authoritarian aspects of China’s system protect the middle class from the poor.
China may never have a system that fits Western ideas of democracy, but it’s already in the process of releasing an extraordinary range of human potential. And that’s why WTO accession for China wasn’t a mistake. China’s growth has contributed to world prosperity in an infinite number of ways, from the curbing of US inflation to dozens of Afrcan highways and ports. China isn’t democratic yet, whatever that means, but it’s an infinitely better place than it was just a few decades ago, providing great benefits to its people and the world. We need to start taking this opportunity seriously in the United States. If we do that, China will remain an opportunity rather than a threat. Interestingly, decisions we make in Syria, this year, can help set that path. And that’s what I’ll talk about next time.
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