You probably think China is an unstoppable power, well worth your investment as a business person.
The first part of that sentence part may be true, depending on definition. The second part is demonstrably false.
Is China a good investment now? Yes. Will China be a good investment in, say, 2016?
Not if you trust the people who know. Including the many wealthy Chinese who are setting up boltholes in English-speaking countries. Australia, the UK, the US, Canada, have all seen applications for resident status rise, and the applicants read like a Who’s Who of contemporary China.
Don’t believe the tales of a sinking ship?
Take this quote from a recent business blog: “China is recovering steadily but not in a way that suggests we are about to benefit. To the contrary.”
And listen to this from a March 2013 article quoting a report from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development): “‘ . . . point to risks [in China] such as property prices and potential tension arising from social inequalities and an ageing population”.
An “ageing population” is easy to define. The Chinese population, like many, is getting older. Despite its enormous size, the same chickens are coming home to roost as in, say, Japan. Good nutrition, good healthcare, are prolonging the lives of the elderly. The one-child system restricted many of those same people from having more than a single child, so the general population is skewing older.
China’s general population is also skewing more male. That’s what “social inequalities” means, when you strip it of bland-speak. It means that in a very quiet, uneasy way, the sons who were born in place of daughters – unvalued daughters aborted when their parents learned their ultrasound results – are growing up. The first wave of excess boys (sex-selective abortions of female fetuses are on the rise all over Asia as people in other nations follow China and India’s dangerous lead, and especially in Muslim-majority former SSRs) are now entering their teenage years, the years of high testosterone and still-developing judgment.
What happens when 16-year-old boys get hold of alcohol and violence-fueling drugs? When they have a me-me-me outlook, as many of China’s “little emperors” do? If society is lucky, they create noise and a little damage. Unlucky, and the town gets trashed. Extremely unfortunate, and citizens are hurt and attacked, raped, and killed.
Because small boys are more vulnerable to illness and disease, and males aged 10 to 25 more vulnerable to risk, including assaults from other males, the average town in the West has slightly fewer adolescent boys than adolescent girls. In five years, the average Chinese town will contain many more teenage boys than girls. That makes many more potentials for testosterone-fueled violence.
Gangs of teenage boys and young men will know they are powerful because of their numbers. While some boys will always be studious and have strong ethics, others will use their power in negative ways, ways that create huge pain footprints. They will far overwhelm the numbers of adolescent girls, and girls will be at risk from them in ways we have not yet seen in China. To call marauding groups of young men “potential tension arising from social inequalities” is absurdly mild.
Future China will be unstoppable only as it either harnesses those young men or eliminates them. Both, I fear, are impossible. Where once the prediction was of a Chinese military grown enormous, I now see chaos and domestic insurrection. No nation can afford a combined military/police force as large as China’s would need to be in order to channel the energies of its young men.
The reputation of the 19th-century American Wild West as a lawless place will seem quaint by comparison with the stories emanating from China by 2030, with 32 million excess men . . . and counting.
Go ahead, invest in China. But be prepared to get out, and quickly, in a few years.
Unless you sell alcohol or guns. Young men have an appetite for those.