More Ziehan on Chinese Demographics

Ziehan’s been banging the Chinese demographic collapse gong for a while now. New data tell the same story. Ziehan says China has about one decade left as a modern industrial state.


Zeihan is an interesting fellow. He does put things in context and tends to overgeneralize his conclusions based solely on geography and demography. These are definitely important factors but it is a stretch to take those and claim the complete failure in short order of a state that is now the 2nd largest economy in the world. Yes things could change rapidly but his conclusions are simply ludicrous and show a definite blindness and ignorance to what is really going on.

But he is provocative and entertaining. That is for sure.

Whether you think China is a serious threat to American hegemony or whether you think it is going to collapse because the system is just bad, none of these extremes views are true.
China does not have the intentions America ascribes to it, and China cannot challenge American hegemony at this time or in the near future. However China will continue to exist and it will take back its place it had in Asia prior to the European expansion.
Why should China accept the American Navy off the coast of Fujian and Taiwan when the US itself will not tolerate any foreign Navy off its coasts? Who is threatening who?



Zeihan and others have ideas, facts and opinions that hold plenty of water.

Other facts

China does not have the water to expand any further.
China’s need for resources is too great in its longer term population to GDP needs.
China’s government leadership is too ignorant by design. Meaning one man threatening people in his midst is a ruinous way to run an economy. The idea that one man is intelligent enough to run it all is beyond…putting it nice it shows just how limited China is.
Xi has taken over the PBoC that is the end of the economy with a slow death.
China’s peg to the USD is even more ruinous. Countries can not at all peg to the USD without disastrous after effects. Look at VZ and all other countries that have pegged to the USD. Eventually reality bites and destroys the country not just the economy.

Prior performance is meaningless. It is over. That is not cheerleading.

The issue right now, China is no longer creating internally any economies of scale in manufacturing. Actually all of the above are the issues right now.

I am not wishing any nation with a dictator cowering his nation well. Import democratic republic ideas or be swept away. If any country gets over the cowering bravo.

A Chinese ship came within 12 miles of the United States coast, in 2015, and the United States said it was allowable under International law. So not sure what you are talking about.



I take him with a little salt. He’s just a bit too sure of his predictions. But interesting take for sure. And if he’s right, certainly a major global power shift.

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Taiwan is considered China by the Chinese.

I consider China to be illegitimate under Xi.

It will never be about attacking China militarily. It is about never supporting one party rule. Time for China to mature a little. Xi is out of his mind thinking only he should be in charge. Talk about crazy. Of course just having such an attitude in China would be reason to be locked away. Wrong!!

yes that is an idea but it is not that simple. England did lose its American colonies under Mad George. But Xi is no George. China has always been more or less an autocracy. But there is an apparatus around and underneath it that runs and supports the system. Those people are selected and mostly highly competent. The Chinese system has always been careful in choosing its officials, bureaucrats and technocrats with testing and examinations. The ruler and the government has to be competent and follow the ‘right way’ for the society. If they are not then China is at risks of great upheavals. That is what all Chinese rulers have feared throughout history, and preventing that explains many of their actions.
Getting to the top is not easy and staying up there is even harder. That does tend to toughen and make someone learn more rapidly then he is used to. That impart risks of instabilities in the system but it should not be misunderstood that one man is deciding everything on a whim. That is far from the truth.
If we were to compare man to man, I would dare say that many Chinese government officials are much more competent and knowledgeable than some of our politicians here in the US.

China centralizes power in the hand of a few. But the balancing act rests on them being able to deliver internal stability. That is the Contract with the people. The society has flourished when they could satisfy the terms of this Contract. When the central power weakened then it led to catastrophe until another strong hand takes it up and re-unifies it and provided continuity to the Chinese civilization.
After the European arrived in Asia, that complicated things for China in the sense that the battle was no longer only internal but the system has to fend off the external threats as well.
In the past, many Chinese neighbors were vassals of China. They did not threaten China and China left them alone for the most part. China was always more preoccupied by the nomadic people in its north than by the people in its south and east who adopted willingly and gladly many aspects of the Chinese civilization. Similarly Europe got its civilization basis from Greece and Rome, and from monotheism. The big difference is that China got unified. Europe never did. The idea of unification became very important for the wannabe rulers of China. Chinese emperors were those who were able to do that time after time. In Europe, it was always fragmented and Europe had more conflicts and developed with less centralization than in China. This historical development has a myriad of implications in terms of what we see today.

What is clear is that the US did not prop up China as a threat when it helped them against the Soviets, or when it was good (mostly) for their corporations and businessmen, and their consumers. China been an autocracy was unimportant. Some even had the strange idea that China might become a western style democracy. During the unipolar moment, the US foreign policies were a bit lost, and for most of the 1st decade of this century, it was mainly preoccupied by terrorism and jihadism. After that was done, it had to find something else.

We did not care that China was authoritarian until Obama made the pivot to Asia, and Trump and Biden took it and ran with it. Now America does not see China as that ‘Third World’ country anymore. It has been building it up as a threat, and we are trying to decouple if not then to de-risk that economic entanglement. Reshoring, near shoring, rebuilding supply chain etc… leading short to mid term inflation.

Now China is the regime that is challenging the US in the Pacific, and the narrative has become about authoritarianism vs democracy. You are with us or against us.
That is a card the US typically likes to play. We ask the intellectuals to build up an adversary that cannot in any conceivable way take us on, and we present it as a menace to our well being. Then we crush it subsequently, and say ‘that was hard’. Mission accomplished. Hurray. We did it.
Zeihan in this sense is a bit more frank. We don’t need to be afraid of them. Their system and their position are so weak that they will crumble without us doing anything of significance. We didn’t do anything. It’s all on them.

That always has been the card we play. When it suited the US, China was a friend but now it is the enemy and we will bring out all the bad stuff that we have on China. We hope for its defeat. S-E and East Asia may be wrecked in the process but it won’t affect us that much. We are happy on our big Island far far away. That is what Zeihan is smiling about counting the places where it will crash and burn while happy to be American and not being in one of those places.



The question is why the Pentagon response has been muted.

They want to observe how far their maritime capabilities have advanced? You better believe that if it was really a threat then this boat would have been on the ocean floor now.

The US knows that China’s Navy is not capable at projecting power very far off Taiwan. The Japanese Navy may be better at that. They build it up as a big giant and then crush it so it can say ‘look we vanquished a giant’. It was hard but we did it. Bravo.

The fact is only the American Navy is capable at projecting its power all over the world. It will keep anyone from getting to that capability.


that is what think tank and intellectuals do. They think of scenarios and bring in the narrative. It is a debate and it can be interesting but often these debates are not resonating with what is going on on the ground.

From afar we can always speculate about this or that. These are not merely intellectual exercises but are ammunition for political and strategic purposes.


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Now your changing your thesis completely because it doesn’t fit your original thesis. If you bothered to google it or read the papers you would see many times where China has come within American international waters, Including flying balloons across our country. They are not the ones being bullied.



What was my original thesis? I said what I said. What are you saying?

The Chinese Navy is a threat to the US off its coasts? No, it is not. You heard of the Monroe doctrine, haven’t you? You heard about Cuba and how the US has retaliated against Cuba that is still under US economic sanctions, haven’t you? The point is that the US is very much more powerful than the rest. It can do what others can’t, and it will not tolerate anyone that it thinks will develop any of the capabilities that could threaten it.
That is not my thesis. That is a reality.

and about your comment about bullying… I think often the bully does not know or will not acknowledge that he is one. A more benign way of saying that is when the elephant passes, some things will get trampled. But it is just the elephant being the elephant.
Ask people outside the American realm and you will get a different perspective on the US foreign policies.

That was your original thesis and I blew it out of the water so now you have done a complete 180.

Sure everyone has a perspective. Even Bin Laden had a reason for doing what he did but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it. I like living in the United States and being a citizen of the United States. While it might seem noble to take the side of another country you do have to realize that they are not without their own agenda. China had their chance to come into the world community and they picked their side with Russia. Once they did that it showed exactly who they are. So now it is a race to see who is going to be the top dog. Everyone has to pick a side.


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Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I don’t think this is it. Relying on one data point (or several, even if true) ignores the mountain of possible causes and effects of demographics, industrialization, growth of competition, changes in leadership and other factors which will surely be as determinative (if not more) than this simplistic analysis.

There’s so much to counter with, but I’ll just try a few. China is already doing what the US has been doing for decades: offloading its lowest industry to other, less developed areas (or countries) while moving up the value chain into electronics, computers, autos, and so on - moving low value industries to the interior, or sometimes to other countries entirely (think: recycling US garbage). We saw this in the US, as we moved textiles and apparel from New England to the South, then to Eastern Europe, and finally to Asia.

There is not a universal wage in China, and manufacturers there will follow the same path as economics dictate. There is plenty of unskilled and semiskilled labor in parts of China which will easily pick up any slack for many years to come, population bulge (or deficit) or not.

Our own Baby Boom is one such (the opposite, obviously) but if you want a historical example consider the period following the Civil War. 600,000 men were killed either by bullets or disease, another million decimated by injury, amputation, or debilitation. In the light of a population of 30,000,000 that doesn’t seem huge, but focus in on the demographics: the vast majority of casualties were of military men, say 15-25 years old. Nearly all men, of course. In a population of 30 million you’d expect about 5 million to be in that age range, about 2.5 to be male. Losing that cohort was a demographic catastrophe, yet 1870-1910 was one of the most productive industrial periods in American history: the Gilded Age, the invention of flight, the spread of the telephone, electricity, phonograph, automobile, not to mention the increase in living standards with plumbing, heat, and so on.

Now China may screw it all up, it wouldn’t be the first time a rich and powerful nation has cratered its economy {cough}1929{/cough}, {cough}1914{/cough}, {cough}2008{/cough}. But predicting they have “one decade left as a modern industrial state” is nonsense. They have hurdles. So do we all.


Ziehan does hit the demographics a little too hard. I think the “overconfidence” bit is just part of his style. But there is no doubt that a lot of Chinese electronics assembly is moving to Vietnam.

The real problem with China is that the whole country moves in the same direction (Xi’s direction) at the same time, which creates a bubble or inflated investment or lump in the python, whatever you want to call it. You wind up with empty cities and empty apartment buildings and parking lots filled with electric vehicles and junk yards filled with bicycles and the whole population trying to invest in the same thing. Right now the newest “fad” seems to be tearing stuff up to create more agricultural land.

Japan has pretty well demonstrated that it is possible to deal intelligently with a falling population.


Nah! China pegged to the USD. That works till it doesn’t.

It is dumb to plan any future pegging your currency to the USD.

As for Xi he is creating, and has no choice, a sinking ship.

Frankly I do not care.

The US is threatening Russia and China. We are threatening the demise of one party rule. That can mean their respective leadership gets executed by their own peoples.

We do put pressure on Russia and China and that wont stop.

Putin and Xi can begin by apologizing to their respective peoples and offer their lives up for punishment in a Russian and a Chinese court. I want full on justice.

Lets not dance around.

yes that is the big problem with the Communist regime. The autocratic regime, is less pluralistic and less stable comparatively. It can only be (very) efficient where the top gives focus. In every other places, it can be quite inefficient. In today’s world of communication and information, it has become much more easy to see that. It can be quite fine when things go well but when things darkens, it becomes fragile and has less margin for errors. China had a moment in the early 20th century when it questioned itself about its weakness against the European powers. It wanted to learn as much as possible from them so that it can catch up, prosper and face them on an equal footing. It wanted to do so without losing the continuity of their civilization. China did learn a lot including about western political systems. The communist won and here we are today.
I think even if they chose to run with a system that would be more agreeable to the current American Empire, there still would be a clash. China is not Europe. Europe can accept the American Empire because it sees it as somewhat in continuity from their own histories. China has a completely different history. It cannot accept that. For most of the past 70 or 80 years, it was not in a position to make any opposition. Even today it cannot really go against the US and it is not their intent. China is definitely not a threat to the US but the US is a threat to China. The US can be quite ruthless in wanting the other to bend. The people and the culture are the soft, attractive and smiling side but very few within will see that ruthless side. It will crush the opposition.

Yes but Japan has become rich. China is becoming old before it has become rich. There are great pressures on China, and the US think they know where to push to see it crumble.



This may not be true very early on after WW II, I do not know.

Japan does not peg the JPY to the USD. The results are a fraud when there is a peg.