Is China heading for a total collapse: political, economic and demographic?
Conventional wisdom says no way. It boasts a massive military and an iron grip on its people, and owns a whopping $870 billion in U.S. debt.
What’s more, American consumers are addicted to its goods. Apple makes its smartphones there. Take a look at the clothes in your closet. Where are they made these days? Thought so.
While that’s no recipe for demise, some people would argue that China will soon be hanging on by a thread. That includes geopolitical analyst Peter Zeihan, whose new forecast makes a case few would otherwise consider.
Zeihan raised eyebrows in a January interview with Joe Rogan, in which he predicted the People’s Republic would collapse in 10 years. Rogan, though no stranger to controversy, was taken aback.
Whether it’s stuff of astute analysis or souped-up hype — dire predictions can raise a pundit’s profile and Rogan’s ratings, after all — economists and international political analysts have begun to debate China’s future. Front and center is whether its trade and family-planning policies have undermined the goal of sharing the world’s economic stage with the United States.
Whatever their stance or opinion of Zeihan, many analysts agree that a Chinese collapse would trigger unprecedented global volatility and a massive rebalancing of the world order. Many trends must expand or even explode for China to realize Zeihan’s predicted fate, but with so much at stake, it’s worth reviewing the numbers.
The 9.9% erosion: China’s struggling economy
From multiple and significant angles, China’s economy is under heavy strain. In particular, the nation has experienced rare civil unrest due to its strict zero-COVID-19 policy, which locked down vast sections of the economy, lowered industrial output and curbed consumer spending.
Some important metrics offer evidence of an economic contraction. The country’s exports dropped 9.9% in December 2022, while a slowdown in growth also weighs on the country’s outlook. That latter, experts say, stemmed from the nation’s excessive investment in metals like steel and aluminum.
You could take the export drop with a grain of salt, though. Steep inflation in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere has moved consumers to tighten their belts. So far, there’s no evidence to support another nation taking China’s place as a dominant source of cheap goods.
That noted, the nation’s debt has risen rapidly over the past decade, particularly among state-owned enterprises and local governments. That could hinder China’s ability to limit future economic shocks. What’s more, ongoing trade tensions with the U.S. and other countries have added to the uncertainty.