Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Today I would like to focus on China

China is a massive country with a massive population. In fact everything about China is massive. As their incredible economic miracle continues to grow, so does their ability to extend their influence in the world. That influence may not be apparent, or overwhelming, now but the future belongs to China. Will China use their growing power to the disadvantage of the United States or will massive problems balance that growth and keep China in check?

It won’t be long before China becomes the world’s biggest economy. When a country has the most money it isn’t long before they tell other countries what to do. After the First World War President Wilson using the position of the United States as the first modern age superpower caused the United Nations predecessor, The League of Nations, to be formed. Wilson brought his "14 points" to France to start off the process. Clemenceau commented that "God needed only ten."

After the Second World War the United States still was in the economic driver’s seat and pretty much told the world what to do; hence the United Nations was formed "to end all wars in the future" just as Wilson sought to do over twenty years earlier. Unfortunately this utopian plan was as much a failure as the previous effort. Although the many wars since 1945 were not global, they managed to kill millions of people anyway. Our country’s influence in the world has diminished in inverse proportion to the growing number of third world countries that became United Nation members and the growing worldwide demand for oil, and Arab treasuries.

Now China has the money, the biggest stack of dollar chips in the world. We can only wonder how long it will be before China exerts influence in keeping with its massive size, population and wealth.

As a result of China’s approach to population control, there are 5 girls for every 6 boys. In a country whose population counts in the billions, that’s a pretty big numerical imbalance. When China becomes the world’s largest economy in the not-to-distant future, it will also have 30 million young men who cannot hope to find a wife. What will they become? Why soldiers of course; then China will have the worlds biggest and, thanks to help from the United States, the most modern military. If they develop a desire to show the rest of the world how things should be done, who will be able to stop them?

But, and that is a big "but", what about China’s present and potential problems which match China’s attributes in size? Will these problems affect the role of China in the future?

China may have a troubling future ahead because of the very success they have achieved. Think of it as a chewing gum bubble; you can blow it up but unless it continues to enlarge, it will collapse. There can’t be the kind of growth China has had without the need to keep on growing or the bubble will burst; it must expand or it will collapse, it can’t stand still.

For example, in a credit bubble people need more and more credit to service the loans and investments they have. If they don’t get more money, their credit goes bad which will cause businesses to fail. Working people suffer the same fate and pretty soon there is a recession or depression. In China’s case a collapsed bubble is far more dangerous because China has hundreds of millions of people who have come to depend on high rates of growth. They aren’t peasants any more and they can’t stay where they are. They’ve moved to the cities to join the national proletariat and they need work. They need progress! They need to build giant roads and aqueducts, airports and factories. They need to produce more things. They need to contribute to the global economy. They need jobs. And if they don’t get them, China could blow up. China is run by a small group of people; as clever as they have been to engineer a growing economy, dealing with a severe down turn and the problems that will cause for a population the government needs to keep under control to survive will be beyond their capability.

The need for China to keep its economic bubble expanding has a profound affect around the world.

Just consider China’s growing consumption of oil. In 1998 China imported 165 million barrels of oil; now they are importing oil at the rate of 1 billion barrels a year, and this amount is growing exponentially. Increasing amounts of oil are required to continue to fuel economic development. It is no wonder oil is in the $120 a barrel range. In addition to the oil, China has built 229 new coal-fired power plants since 1990.

Rice is in short supply around the world and has become very expensive. When the Chinese people lived in the country and were farmers, they fed themselves with what they produced. But after they moved to the cities, they become consumers and not producers. Chinese city dwellers compete for their daily rice bowl with people in Europe, Asia and Africa.

The National Geographic says since 1949 China has lost one-fifth of its farmland to dust storms, desertification and urbanization. As strange as it may seem it is estimated China loses an area about the size of Rhode Island in arable farm land each year.

What does all this mean; well let’s see: the economy has to keep on growing at an unusual pace to avoid recession or worse, people are moving to the cities leaving fewer farmers to feed the country using less and less arable land, the Chinese have to compete globally for oil and food while their resources are diminishing, the authoritarian government has to keep the bubble expanding or risk a proletariat revolution … hmm.

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