Everyone warns of China’s rise. But its decline could be even worse.

“It’s frightening to think about,” a prominent scholar said.

Vox
Date: Dec 12, 2018
By: Alex Ward@AlexWardVoxalex.ward@vox.com  

TOKYO — Most Western predictions about the future of China’s rise are ominous, ranging from

Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting in Madrid, Spain, on November 28, 2018.
 Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

theories about how the country will perfect an authoritarian society to how it will serve as a model for a less free future.

But while reporting in Japan on Wednesday, I heard the most troubling prediction about China yet — and it was actually about the country’s decline.

“If the central government runs out of money, then they’re in trouble,” Akio Takahara, one of Japan’s leading scholars on China, told US-based reporters. “If you talk to the Chinese people, they’ll tell you that this [system of government] cannot last forever. So someday there will be a big change, but they don’t know when, they don’t know how, or what the process will be,” Takahara said.

And, he added, it won’t necessarily be peaceful.

There are two worrying things packed into that analysis, so let’s take each in turn.

First, on the surface it seems impossible that China — the world’s second-strongest economy — would run out of cash any time soon. But there are signs that China is undergoing a significant slowdown, partially because of President Donald Trump’s trade war.

Some economists have long held that China vastly inflates its economic growth rate, which officially stands at 6.5 percent right now. But the predictions are getting more dire, with one Chinese economist predicting that China’s real growth rate is zero. If true, that could cause significant problems for Chinese President Xi Jinping and put strain on the Communist Party’s hold on power.

Second, the US and other countries for decades hoped that engaging China would prompt it to open up its economy and eventually become a more democratic society. The hope, though, was that shrewd management of China’s transition to democracy would make it relatively painless — and even bloodless.    [FULL  STORY]

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