by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The Chinese Communist Party’s leader, Xi Jinping, is the most powerful leader in Communist China since Chairman Mao. Yet, Xi’s outward strongman image is a veneer over his inner insecurity. When he came into power in late 2012, China’s economy had slowed down from double-digit growth to single-digit growth; the mass working-age population, which had been the engine of China’s economic growth, has begun to decline. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, D.C.–based think tank, projects that by 2030, “China will round out its thinning labor force by hiring workers from abroad.” At the same time, according to Mark Haas, a political-science professor at Duquesne University, “China alone in 2050 will have more than 329 million people over 65.” Consequently, China is expected to be the first major economy that will grow older before it achieves widespread prosperity.
Without its demographic dividend and with an aging population, China’s economic growth will further slow down at the time when the government needs to keep its growing middle class from demanding a level of political freedom matching their newfound wealth. An aging population would also force the government to allocate more national resources for elder care and social services, which means there will be fewer resources to compete against the U.S. This is probably one of the most important reasons why Xi feels that he has to abandon the so-called strategic-patience guidance issued by Deng Xiaoping. …
… Xi, however, believes that China can’t afford to bide its time any longer. It must replace the liberal world order with a Sino-centric world order before China’s population becomes too old and the Chinese economy becomes too stagnant. However, rather than furthering economic reform and opening up more sectors to foreign investment and competition to strengthen its economy, Xi chose to hide China’s weaknesses and exaggerate China’s economic strengths.