As per Mikhail Gorbachev, the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 led to the collapse of USSR in 1991 – five years later. The disaster was a turning point. The accident was not reported. The clean-up was furtive and botched. Chernobyl was the result of subverting truth and propagation of organised lies with impunity . The broken and distorted Soviet system, built on lies, patronage and a totalitarian ideology couldn’t continue. USSR was not unstable then. No mass protests. ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’ forced an internal churn to trigger the collapse. The absurd monopoly of the Communist party on power and information and its overbearing centrality went belly up. Nothing has changed with the CCP – organised lies, patronage, totalitarian ideology, monopoly on power and information, botched clean-up or lying with impunity. Xi Jinping and the CCP are going for broke to ensure that Chernobyl is not repeated with the Wuhan Virus. The rich and well-oiled CCP state machinery, has got going. Any vestige of introspection/ criticism/ dissent is being stamped out ruthlessly. Undiluted propaganda to glorify China and CCP is at work. The regime is thinking bigger – world domination. Some chutzpah!
Chernobyl and the Wuhan virus are not the only disasters that have happened. Fukushima and Bhopal also happened. However democratic escape valves allowed steam to escape. Autocracies and totalitarian regimes are pressure cookers without escape valves. In any case, the scale and effect of the Wuhan Virus is global. It has touched every household on planet earth. No escape valves. Outcomes will be vastly different. What is more. The virus is democratic with a mind and life of its own. It will catch you one way or the other. If one form does not…its mutant will. Further, it is not going away in a hurry. Two years hence we will be still fighting it. That is the least if not more. In the past one year so much has changed. Much more will change immediately ahead…and will compound later. The Chernobyl time line might have already begun. When I searched Chinese vaccines, guns, belts, decoupling and babies…I felt that the “gradually” has commenced…I do not know if and when “suddenly” will happen.
China’s one-child policy is an imploding population bomb. Skewed gender ratio. Increasing divorce rates. Late marriages. Fertility rates below replacement levels. Shrinking workforce. Increased longevity. Increasing aged dependents. In 1978, China had nine workers per retiree. Down to five in 2020. Will dip to three by 2040. Relatively more old people. Japan got rich before it aged. China will be old before it grows rich. China will age in 22 years what Western nations aged in 60-70 years – with lower per capita incomes and an under developed social security system . No social security net, no family security and a pension crisis. China’s state pension funds might run out of money by 2035. A shrinking and aged population will adversely impact mega projects like “Belt and Road,” as also its military capability. A compounding belief is that Chinese figures are cooked up. Their population might already be shrinking. It is estimated to be 115 million less than the official 1.4 billion. Technological advances and productivity increases can offset aging – partially. Chinese economic dynamism and growth potential will dip. All this is public knowledge. What is new now? 2016- 17.86 million births. 2017 – 17.2 million births. 2018 – 15.2 million births. 2019 – 14.65 million births. 2020 – 10.03 million births! Babies were unaffordable in the ‘Year of The Virus’. As the virus situation endures so will the declining trend. The demographic demise is being classified as a “gray rhino event,” a highly probable, high-impact, yet neglected threat looming on the horizon. China has no solutions. It explains the Chinese hurry to be numero uno. “1.4 billion people in China sounds like a lot, but I think in the next 20 years, we will see this bring big trouble to China, and the population decreasing. The speed of population decreasing is going to speed up. Now you called it a collapse. I agree with that” Jack Ma said. No wonder he is locked up somewhere. Gradually…?
The BRI was an instrument for China’s rise. By 2019, BRI was already slowing down. Hype declined and funding went southwards. There were issues of unviability, corruption, opacity, debt traps, negative social and environmental impacts. Lot of second thoughts. Projects were scaled down or being reviewed. Then came the Wuhan Virus and global economic disruption. Countries closed borders. Mobility and travel restrictions were imposed. Movement of Chinese workers and construction supplies – restricted. Political risks increased. Funding decreased. Clarion calls for roll over/ renegotiation of loans precluded new loans. China itself admitted that up to 60% projects were impacted. Must be more. Affected countries included Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Indonesia Tanzania, Nigeria, Kyrgyzstan, Australia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Maldives, Angola and more. There is growing public unease in China itself about BRI. China might recover economically and virus wise. Recipient countries will not. Pakistan is expected to take a decade to inoculate 75% of its population. Its economy is in a basket. Where will CPEC, the flagship of BRI go? Extend this scary logic conservatively to others. Low-income countries face a debt crunch. Chinese lenders will have to take enormous losses. Most low income countries do not have vaccines. They cannot afford overpriced and inefficient Chinese vaccines. The virus will endure. It will incapacitate the BRI softly, over a long time. The BRI wont vanish nor will it succeed. However as revival or survival costs increase, politicians/governments will change. Gradually…?
Virus and Vaccines
Last year, China launched a massive campaign to combat the Virus and anti-China sentiment – masks, PPE, wolf warriors, vaccine research et al. Strict measures contained the virus and effected economic recovery. China’s propaganda was presented as saving humanity. However, Chinese culpability of the outbreak or spread of the Virus remains unshaken. Military assertiveness compounded this belief. China’s rise was aided by a favourable international environment. Its behaviour successfully destroyed international goodwill and generated antibodies in major nations. It created strategic divergence in its maritime environment. USA, UK, EU, India, Australia and Japan are now more competitive with China than cooperative. Its Vaccine Diplomacy conjures negative visions of wariness, scepticism, poor distribution, ineffectiveness, lack of data, overpriced, potential strings attached, political retribution, coercion, delayed delivery and lack of capacity. Overall – overhyped. Some outcomes are in the graphic.
Last year, the USA appeared pitiable and China was invincible. Today USA is averaging 2.5 million jabs daily. It will reach herd immunity faster than China or any other large country. The tone and tenor in USA has changed off late. American resilience is back in action. China’s population, may not be vaccinated until mid 2022. Chinese advantage of controlling the virus will henceforth become a disadvantage. “China is at a very critical moment,” Zhong Nanshan, the top respiratory disease expert, said in a recent interview . “When other countries have been very well vaccinated, and China still lacks immunity, then that will be very dangerous.” China is ramping up its vaccination drive to achieve herd immunity. People are being forced to get shots. Population is reluctant to be vaccinated. Urgency to get vaccinated is missing due to reduced prevalence. China’s history of vaccine-related scandals and lack of transparency compounds the situation. Many feel that China is exporting more vaccines abroad, instead of using them domestically since they are not confident of efficacy. People are being offered freebies for vaccination! Imagine. The vaccine war is slipping. It is not about influence but about economics. India, Russia, USA, QUAD and GAVI are cutting in heavily in vaccine sales internationally and damaging the ‘Health Silk Road’. Domestically, China remains vulnerable without herd immunity, which is a political and economic risk.
When an US president says to his public that ‘China is having our lunch’, he has drawn battle lines. Decoupling on the whole was wishy washy since the countries dependant on Chinese imports were reeling under the pandemic. That is changing, as vaccinations are taking effect. US – China economic decoupling is now ‘inevitable’. Tech decoupling is underway. The Supply Chain Resilience Initiative is active through the QUAD platform with industry associations commencing dialogue. Atmanirbharta will yield results in time. Xinjiang issue will swing EU back to USA. Pessimism in doing business with China is growing. Simultaneously, China is facing rising unemployment, dropping household incomes and low internal consumption. These are synchronous. In my opinion any decoupling 10-15% will start a cascade. 2021- 24 will be critical. In any case, the world is clear that it cannot be held to ransom by China. Things will change…Gradually…
China is attempting to build the greatest and modern military on earth at breakneck speed due to the geostrategic compulsions of the post pandemic world. . Guns and wars are expensive hobbies. Military modernisation is a costly toy game. Capital investment goes up by about 100-150%. Day to day revenue expenditure goes up by 50% at least. Electronic obsolescence is a slippery fast track in a battlefield tending towards disruptive technologies. War waging trends are diversifying. From the indications so far, China is unwilling to headbutt major powers in traditional warfare. Expeditionary capability is over the horizon. Power might not exactly flow from their barrels but into them. The QUAD enables taking on China at least cost. Costs will escalate for China. In my personal opinion, China’s military modernisation, time lines, and plans seems to be like pouring water into a desert. The economics of an unusable and huge military are gargantuan. It will have an impact…Gradually…
Gradually to Suddenly
At this point of time when everyone is down with the Wuhan Virus, China is flying high like Icarus. However, like Chernobyl, the Virus will extract its pound of flesh as time evolves. China has skipped the direct impact now. The indirect impact, is already in motion. Gradually, the belt is going loose, without babies the workforce shrinks and the military is getting costly. The (ineffective ) vaccines might not protect, or accrue economic or diplomatic bounty. Decoupling is happening. Goodwill has vanished and competition has set in. Many more issues will prop up. All thanks to the Virus’ Chernobyl effect. The time line of the ‘gradually’ has commenced. Will the suddenly happen? Might or might not. However the Chinese Icarus will not be able to get too close to the sun lest its wings melt. The Chinese Virus will have the last laugh.…it will do things in the long term….
Lastly. Autocracies are first half players. Aggressive. Early leaders. Always attempting to be start to finish winners. Democracies are second half players. Apparently lazy and disorganised. Greater stamina. They counter punch. Late finishers….Understand this and everything falls in place. Gradually…
Leave a Reply