As far back as 1986, during the standoff between Red-socialist East and Capitalist “free” West, I have predicted that totalitarian regimes are not, as Western propaganda would like to believe, unfriendly to making beaucoup Capitalist bucks. If a regime — communist, fascist or otherwise dictatorial — decides one day to make money, its tyrannical systems can silence dissent, labor rights, or any other humanist impediment to finding cheap labor. A command economy can move from communist slave labor to slave sweatshops provided for its new capitalist elite. China has shown in a brief few decades, the totalitarian model can surge in uncontrolled, unorthodox prosperity far faster than the chaotic democracies. You just have to make a pact with your people, give them license to get rich and prosperous, as long as they stay out of politics. In short, having a good house, gas-guzzler car, money, fine clothes and a free pursuit of affluence is well worth leaving the guys in power alone as long as they leave your a-political entrepreneurial desires alone.
The Olympics in Beijing this August will see a snag emerge in this unwritten agreement between citizens and communist suzerains. The leadership has ordered all coal and smog belching factories a few hundred miles radius inside and around Beijing to shut off their smoke stacks in August so that the Olympic presentation of the New China will happen under clear blue skies. Tens of thousands of smog ingesting trees have already been planted along the streets of Beijing but I predict they will not be up to the challenge.
The communist leaders have controlled the populace in political matters quite well, but they have had a terrible time curtailing the abuses of its runaway capitalism. It is the reason why China’s toys, as Americans found out last Christmas season of 2007, are rife with toxic lead paint and chemical corruption. The dictatorship can effectively and ruthlessly grease their tanks with thousands of students holding peaceful demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989, but they cannot stop their food processors from lacing human meat, poultry products and the tins of cat and dog food with industrial poisons. Communism cannot completely cut off the coughing, cash making, lung cancer metastasizing clouds of Chinese capitalism no matter how Olympian the effort.
The Olympics in Beijing are a dream that will fade in smoggy shadows, like the dream of China’s ascendancy as dominant superpower of this young century.
America, not China, in the end will be the last national superpower. The coming 36-years will see government by national political identity fade into an internationalist society by the 2040s.
America, not China, would be the last superpower because China has come too late to its century. America’s 20th century has passed. The 21st, the Chinese Century of dominance, has robustly begun but it cannot prevail as it is. The tyranny of urban China returns, and the country will be ripe for another peasant revolt. Though around 500 million Chinese enjoy rapid rise in wealth and prosperity in the urban areas, 800 million rural Chinese are mostly excluded, or they throng in their multitude millions every year to the cities to become the wetback labor force of the Chinese economic miracle that heats up the climate with miraculous speed.
Famine, China’s ancient enemy will return. So fast is the demand for food that China will need all current food exports of the whole world to feed itself by 2025. Is it expanding its domestic agriculture? No, China is a major global food exporter too.
The press of people plague China’s future. The population birth rate, though slowing down, will clear 1.6 billion in the coming ten years, just as its other chief product, air pollution, will speed up the meltdown of the Himalayan glaciers that feed all of its major river systems. In a dozen years after the Beijing Olympics, a rich China, will be dirt-in-the-potable water poor, unable to feed itself, its great life giving rivers, such as the Yellow and the Yangtze, running dry from their headwaters. Industry uses more water than agriculture. It too will stop producing because of unquenchable thirst.
The 2008 Olympics is not a coming out party, but a going away party. The smog scandal could either serve to shock the Chinese out of their ecological insensitivity, or 2008 will be remembered as the beginning of a 36-year long collapse of China back-pedaling into a future impoverished chaos of warlords fighting for scraps in heaps of trash.
The New China will not be remembered as a superpower. It will be remembered as a super-polluter. The world’s new worst polluting nation will succumb to eco-karma very soon and very fast. The near future fall of China threatens the global economy far more than today’s weakening dollar.
(9 March 2008)
More about the future of China.