By Joe Tauke
The “Chinese century” is over.
After all the prognostications, projections and proclamations of the past 20 years asserting that China would soon overtake the U.S. as the world’s dominant superpower, the People’s Republic is now facing twin perpetual headwinds, and has no realistic options for countering either of them.
The first could accurately be described as the strongest long-term force driving the fates of all great powers: demographics. What was, for many previous decades,China’s ultimate advantage — its never-ending supply of working-age laborers — peaked at almost exactly one billion people in 2010, according to the Chinese census. The next census, in 2020, revealed that for the first time since China’s economic liberalization in the 1970s, the working-age cohort had shrunk, decreasing by more than 30 million. The U.N. estimates that this group will continue to contract, dropping to 773 million by 2050. (In other words, between now and then China is likely to lose a number of workers larger than the entire population of Brazil.) The under-14 population will also fall in that same period, from just over 250 million in 2020 to a median projection of 150 million in 2050. Not only will the workers be disappearing, but nobody is expected to replace them.