Monday, March 22, 2010

China’s Demographics May Mean Trouble, JOE Warns


Defense News

China’s Demographics May Mean Trouble, JOE Warns


TAIPEI — China’s demographic shift toward an older, male-heavy population is just one of the potentially destabilizing aspects of one of the greatest strategic question marks of the next 25 years, according to the Joint Operating Environment 2010 (JOE) report issued March 15 by U.S. Joint Forces Command.

Chinese academic and military writings indicate that Beijing believes the “window of opportunity” will last to the 2020s, “during which China can focus on domestic economic growth and expanded trade with the world to make it a truly great power,” the report said.

Yet China faces several potentially destabilizing demographic problems, primarily due to aging: “China may grow old before it grows rich,” the report said.

The one-child-per-family policy means that China will have a surplus male population of about 30 million by 2020.

“With birthrate replacement levels of 2.1 children per mother, China faces a ‘4-2-1 problem’ with four grandparents having two children and one grandchild, a demographic profile that makes intergenerational pension programs impossible to finance,” the report said.

Susan Shirk, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for China, downplayed the significance of demographic issues on security.

"The aging of China’s population will inevitably slow down economic growth and increase the government’s burden of caring for the elderly,” while the uneven sex ratio is likely to increase crime rates, Shirk said.

“But it is much harder to predict whether these problems will produce protests and organized challenges to the government,” she said. The report said the Chinese diaspora might lead to instability, especially in Siberia, “as ethnic Russians leave (perhaps as many as a half million in the 2000-2010 time frame, or 8 percent of the total population) and ethnic Chinese immigrate to the region.”

Currently, there are between 480,000 and 1 million ethnic Chinese in the region, roughly 6 percent to 12 percent of the population, the report said.

“Russia must carefully manage this demographic transition to avoid ethnic tensions that could erupt into a cross-border conflict with China,” according to the report. “Demographic and natural resource pressures across the Siberia/Manchuria border have significant implications for Moscow’s control of its far east.”

But Vassily Kashin, a researcher with the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said the Chinese migration issue is “overblown” and that current Russian “estimates put the number of Chinese migrants to Russia at about half a million for the whole country” — not just the region.

The report noted U.S. concern about China’s naval buildup, which it said reflected Beijing’s desire to secure the sea lanes that carry 80 percent of its oil.

“The U.S. Navy possesses the ability to shut down China’s energy imports of oil,” said the report, noting an unnamed Chinese naval strategist said that “the straits of Malacca are akin to breathing — to life itself.” The report also noted with concern Chinese anti-satellite warfare efforts, including Beijing’s attempt to blind a U.S. satellite in September 2006 and its shattering of an inactive weather satellite with a missile a few months later.

The report said China looks to two historical case studies for strategic guidance: the collapse of the Soviet Union, which taught Beijing not to build its military at the expense of economic growth, and the rise and fall of Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

China has also paid a great deal of attention to U.S. military thinking, the report said: “In the year 2000, the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] had more students in America’s graduate schools than the U.S. military, giving the Chinese a growing understanding of America and its military.” JOE 2010 said little about the Taiwan issue beyond calling it a “wild card” and an “unclear” picture. The report suggests reunification might bring with it the “spread of democratic ideals to the mainland and a weakening of the [Chinese Communist] Party’s grip on an increasingly educated and sophisticated population.”