In their new book Danger Zone, Michael Beckley and Hal Brands argue that “China will be a falling power far sooner than most people think.” While this sounds good for American national security it actually could spell trouble.
Beckley and Brands’ book challenges an important piece of conventional wisdom.
They challenge the common thinking that rising powers, like China, are more likely to fight established powers like the United States when they are on the ascent but tend to back off when they pass their peak.
They explain that this is not necessarily the case. Most countries, once they realize that time is no longer on their side, make bigger and bigger gambles to try to stave off stagnation.
The two writers use Germany before World War I and Japan in the lead-up to Pearl Harbor as only the two most dramatic of the examples they list.
China’s rise has been remarkable since Mao Zedong’s death. However, Beckley and Brands claim that China enjoyed many advantages in that period that have eroded away.
Today, China’s aggressive behavior is alarming its neighbors and provoking the strategic encirclement Beijing has long feared.
Mao’s successors, particularly Deng Xiaoping, promoted economic reforms and ruled through interparty consensus.
In contrast Xi Jinping’s one-man rule threatens to return China to the days of Mao’s erratic and often catastrophic leadership—and the brutal struggles for power when the strongman dies.
China’s enormous demographic dividend has now expired. In the early 2000s, there were 10 workers for every retiree, but by 2050 there will only be 2. “To prevent senior citizens from dying in the streets,” China will have to devote 30 percent of its GDP to elderly care. This is as much as it spends on its entire government today.
China has also ruined its previously abundant natural resources: It has roughly as much water per person as Saudi Arabia. In 2008 China became a net importer of food, and by 2011 it was the largest agricultural importer in the world. All told, these trends “imply that China will be economically sluggish, internationally hated, and politically unstable by the 2030s.”