But wait a bit,’ the Oysters cried,
Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!
Today we obsess about China. Much like for the last twenty years, it was ISIS bombers in our malls, and before then the Soviet Union – air raid and nuclear strike drills. Before then Nazis, before then the Spanish empire I guess. Through it all COVID or Spanish Flu or AIDS. Americans are nothing if not obsessive.
Today we obsess about China.
Maybe the obsession is good. It allows us to muster our national imagination against a foe, to build consensus about what needs to be done to vanquish them, to get a single-mindedness to our national decision-making process in order to marshal our tremendous power to meet the challenge. Cue WWII, there was nothing in the world like that American war effort.
And on the face of it, we are not wrong. The Nazis were really, really bad. The Soviets even worse – I just spent two years in Armenia, where the scars of Soviet oppression are still visible in the dead buildings and the traumatized populations who had to endure generations of enslavement. To think freely after so great a tribulation is a challenge, and the older people – those who lived under the dark shadow from the north – are still wary. Terrorism was bad too, but never a threat the way we made it out to be. It is existential for Mali or Burkina Faso or Afghanistan, but for the United States with our privileged geography it was never something that was going to require national mobilization.
But China is; and is a serious threat. They have the longevity of the Soviet Union, learning that enslavement of a population works, that fear is a tremendous motivator – but also learning that as long as they make our cheap widgets and “flash fashion” apparel we are stuck with them. “Flash fashion” to pay for the Uighur death camps, because China is a nasty combination of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. The experiments they are doing on the Uighurs, or political dissidents, or Falun Gong practitioners are nothing short of crimes against humanity. Like the Nazis against the Jews and the Gipsy.
And China is more dangerous now than they have been; but not for the reasons you might think.
They are dangerous now, because they are weakening very noticeably and very quickly. They are facing two very real and very existential problems. The first is their economic model no longer works. It was predicated upon the creation of cheap detritus, taking advantage of the massive glut of labor available in the last decade of the 20th century (globalist economics was build on the movement of Chinese cheap labor to the cities and the liberation of those behind the Iron Curtain). They used this cheap indentured servitude to addict the west to their cheap crap, greased by their WTO membership, to give them massive amounts of capital (capital the USSR in its day could only dream of). But that is over – Chinese costs per worker have increased sixfold over the last years. They have had to literally enslave the Uighurs to keep the costs down. To pay for it, China’s economy was hardwired to force the savings of the enslaved either into cash or real estate to pay for the tremendous building boom of modernizing their country. They leveraged this until the white elephants strewn around the country became too apparent, and then they have sought to export this surplus production of construction to the world via what they call the “Belt and Road Initiative” (and maybe enslave some neighbors in the process). Their debt has now reached 300% of GDP, they are leveraged to the hilt, no longer have any money to pay for anything just as the world has gotten wise and started to increase the costs via tariffs and divestment orders.
The second Chinese problem is demographic. When they instituted the ‘one child’ policy, population growth was already slowing in China as it does everywhere else and for the same reasons: families that urbanize and increase their education levels have fewer children. Period. Their dramatic overreaction has led to a demographic collapse which is starting now, and will continue for the next 75 years. Over that period, China’s population will be cut in half – of what remains, it will be older – and will be made mostly of men. Angry geriatric Chinese men sitting in apartments in empty condominium complexes on the outskirts of a dead town, that is the future of the “Middle Kingdom”.
The pressure valves which address these things in free societies: civil society, church, political debate. None of them exist. And real answers, immigration, do not fit with Han Nationalism – besides nobody would go to totalitarian China, even if they were allowed.
China has, probably, twenty years before collapse becomes precipitous. The problem is Xi knows all this. But Xi is no Gorbachev. Xi is Mao, who once told Pol Pot “Congrats, you’re doing what I want to do here but they won’t let me” (referring to the killing fields); Mao who once said that he welcomed nuclear war with the west because China had more people “And probably a third will survive, and that is enough to rebuild and take over the world.”
So we have twenty years of Chinese desperation before they fade away, turning their soldiers into old-folks-homes attendants and their tanks into geriatric vans. Xi has maybe twenty years left, maybe less, before his time too is over. We, as America, need to use those twenty years to avoid a devastating war – for a war with China would be terrible not only for the United States but for Australia and for Indonesia and for the Philippines and for Japan. But it would also be disastrous for our natural world. We need to avoid a war with China over Taiwan (while of course safeguarding their freedom, that should go without saying but I’ll say it anyways); an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the South China Sea bristling with missiles pointed at the mainland, befuddling the attempts of Xi and his planners to build a blue-water navy for the invasion and subjugation of their “near abroad” – the creation of empire, that is the only way Xi can imagine the fix to his demographic problem, Philippino and Malay replacing Uighurs in his factories which will make the inputs of consumption for the bazaars in Jakarta in a modern manifestation of “empire free trade” into perpetuity. And avoiding war will be the hardest thing to do – many say it is already set for 2022 after the Winter Olympics. We need to muster all our power to safeguard Taiwan, not for their benefit – though there is that – but because if we don’t, China might just succeed at empire and then they become a problem we will give not only to our children but our grandchildren.
And while we avoid war, we need to extricate our economy from theirs – insulating ourselves from their coming economic collapse. This means moving our strategic supply chains like pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment and lithium batteries to friendlier places closer to home. But it also means finally, at long last, getting real with ourselves – making peace with the fact that the rapid consumption, the ‘fast fashion’, the plastic-widget-from-Walmart, the “I need that new piece of cheap plastic crap to make my life better” narrative must fade away. We will have to make due with an iPhone that lasts for years; with clothes that we put away for summer and get back out again for winter, clean them off and re-ware them; with cars that we maintain regularly and pass on to our children when they come of age. With Christmases and birthdays focused on experiences and family and not piles of junk. I know we’ve been saying that forever, but it’s true. Conveniently, this brings us into common cause with the ‘climate change’ crowd – because it is what they are worried about; which allows me, a conservative worried about war with China to make common cause on policies with the progressive left.
See, maybe the obsession is, in fact, good after all!