Should We Be Afraid of China’s Development?

China. Does the name send shivers down your spine? Should it? The World’s Most Populous State (1.3 billion people) is the fastest growing economy in history, rocketing past Germany and the U.K. in recent years to take third place in the world market. In the past three months, Japan has reportedly fallen just behind China for yet another quarter, tentatively making China the world’s second largest economy. With that kind of track record, how long before they take number one?

So, patriots, this begs the question: should we, as Americans, be afraid of the rise of China? The short answer is maybe.
Sure, a majority of the computer hacking directed against American companies can be traced directly back to China. And yes, their new stealth fighter does tend to suspiciously resemble the American model. That’s a little scary, especially since China’s military contains about 2.3 million active personnel with a stated budget of $70 billion.

Of course, that’s the paper value; McCarthy-esque paranoids in the White House are worried that China could be spending upwards of $150 billion. If those numbers come off as intimidating, don’t worry; they’re supposed to. But despite all of those troops and all of that money, China’s capacity for war with the U.S. is fairly limited, considering that their nuclear weapons capacity isn’t even on par with Israel’s, and is nowhere near as impressive as ours. And for the most part, from China’s perspective, war with the U.S. would be fairly counterproductive; as the U.S. is the world’s largest importer of electronics and automobiles, China needs someone to buy all of that crap.

Which leads to perhaps the biggest reason why you shouldn’t fear the rise of China: however impressive China’s rising economy may be, an awesome GDP does not necessarily guarantee a powerful nation. A nation’s power lies in its people, and China’s income per person is actually rather low, 93rd on the world index, making them a middle-income nation overall. While China’s one-party system does limit the power these individual people have, if China were to begin war with the U.S., they’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to sell to (certainly not their own impoverished masses.)

True, those numbers are increasing; lately, China has been making an effort to improve the life of the common man, even allowing for several captains of industry to live in relative wealth. But the real problem in China is an unforeseen consequence of its infamous one-child policy (which has since been repealed in many regions), a problem that is more common in the East than the West: age.

More than any other country in the world, China is full of old people. Lots of old people. Economically speaking, by 2050, China’s elderly population will overtake that of the U.S., at least if it sticks to its current rate. In that same year, if birth rates and age statistics persists, China will have an impossibly large population of 65-and-olders, roughly 40 percent of the population. In America, it seems like we could be facing the opposite problem; with such high rates of heart disease and other age-related deaths, we might resort to a “Logan’s Run”-type situation, where no one lives past 30. (If you didn’t get that movie reference, don’t worry, it just means you’re too hip for me.)

All humor aside, I’m saying that China is not a complete threat, but as a nation we should stay on our toes. How much of our fear is just the remnants of Cold War ghosts? How long before China gives up those ghosts itself and converts to a capitalist democracy? I mean, realistically speaking, their communism is only a façade; the People’s Republic of China is well on its way to becoming a copycat of the U.S. Economically, we can afford to be ready for the competition but not eager for war-mongering. China and the U.S. have a strong economic relationship, and at this point, war would be foolhardy for either of us.

As a people, Americans should congratulate China on how far they’ve come. Americans’ current concern for the PRC should be an increase in human rights as championed by the Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Further down the line, we can aspire to a transparent, friendly alliance between two free, capitalist nations.

Ryan Cady is a first-year undeclared major. He can be reached at rcady@uci.edu.