The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

China Will Be Understood To Be The World’s Premier Power In Less Than A Decade

The signs of American collapse are everywhere. The Russians are out-producing not just the US, but the West in missiles, tanks and drones. The Chinese have a larger navy than the US and can build three ships in the time it takes the US to build one, and yes, their domestic arms industry is larger and more productive than America’s. They and the Russians are also ahead technologically in missiles, and arguably drones. (America has more expensive larger ones, but Ukraine shows what works is swarms of smaller ones.)

What’s really damning is the Western inability to ramp up production for the Ukrainian war. The Russians vastly increased production, the West hasn’t and can’t. De-industrialization is real.

I’ve gone over this in a number of articles, but the bottom line is that China is the largest trade partner of most of the world, is providing the loans for much of the world (at cheaper interest rates); is doing far more development work and so on. It is aligned with Russia. Major conferences are now lead by China: both the Iran/Saudi deal and the major Palestinian peace effort—and neither were discussed in English. They’re equal in most techs and catching up in those they are behind in like semiconductors, satellites and commercial aircraft.

But it’s the naval bit I keep coming back to. China will have a much, much larger navy than America: it already does and the American navy is shrinking while the Chinese one is growing.

The rise of China has been concealed by inertia and by the overhang of dollar being the unit of trade, but everyone is going to see and acknowledge this soon, especially as trade is increasingly settled in local currencies and alternatives to the Western banking system grow.

It just doesn’t make sense to go to the US any more if want most goods, military gear or even to move up the industrial chain. (See “How to use China to make your left wing government successful.”)

It’s all over but the shooting. In Thucydides Trap, Graham Allison’s book and article, he notes that usually the rise of a new power leads to war, sometimes multiple wars.

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On a personal level, this feels weird, in that all the things I’ve been warning about for decades are now happening. De-dollarization, industrial hollowness leading to military incapacity, and the Global South abandoning Europe and American en-masse.

Slowly, then quickly.

I mean, it’s not weird, these things were obvious. But 30 years is a long time in a human life. To see it all happening now, just as I (and others) predicted feels really weird.

Same as climate change: for a long time we were warning, and not it’s here in ways only fools can deny. Exactly as predicted. I always said it would happen sooner and worse than the IPCC claimed.

The Chinese are going to get in the neck, of course. They’ll get lead-trace and then be gutted by climate change and ecological collapse like everyone else. Their time in the sun will be brief.

It’s Chinese bad luck to make it to the top of the industrial heap at the moment when the entire industrial stack is about to become impossible to maintain. They played by the industrialization rules, and they’re going to die by them.

Still, unless the North China breadbasket gets wiped out an early inundation, the Chinese will probably hold on longer than most. Big if, though. My money is that a big inundation will hit far sooner than most models say.



Good Guys And Bad Guys In Gaza


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 3, 2023


  1. GrimJim

    Has anyone compared ongoing and future urban development in China with expected land loss due to rising sea levels?

    Are more cities being built in the “safe zones” than in the “inundation zone”?

    Are areas around the new urban developments being set aside for local agriculture? Perhaps through terracing?

    I’d be interested in seeing a proper study of their urbanization and kand use plans for five, 10, 20, and 50 years out.

  2. Curt Kastens

    Will the relative rising economic fortunes of the Chinese swamp the incomming tide of lower qualities of life due to environmental collapse. Or will environmental collapse swamp the Chinese economy along with the world economy?

    I easily put my money on the a short term future in which the world’s environment swamps every economy including that of China.

    At this point any shred of opptomism or hope for the world is completely delusional.
    Yes I hope that in the short term Russia can liberate the Ukraine, maybe even Germany. But I have no hope that anything will change because of that other than maybe the skins can be flayed off of high ranking members of society before they are burned alive. But my hope for important meaningful Russian short term Victories is not very high.

    Same goes for holding Israeli leaders to account for their American supported massive decades long crime Spree.

  3. Jan Wiklund

    Aksel Sandemose, the Danish-Norwegian writer, said to the Germans in (I believe) The Werewolf: It’s obvious that you will loose this war, but do you have to loose it in such an idiotic way?

    The West could have settled for being one of several centers in the world, with an industrial capacity enough for the ≈15% they are. But no! If they weren’t allowed to be Big Brother they were uninterested.


  4. Mary Bennet

    I believe China has planned for the environmental catastrophes Mr. Welsh foresees. Whether those plans will work as expected in another question.

    I suggest that the fundamental reason behind far flung railroad building is to quickly move large numbers of Chinese onto higher ground when that becomes necessary. We have already seen the way in which Chinese business tries to establish Chinese only enclaves in their host countries. There was an attempt by a Chinese company to bribe a Republican gov. of Idaho to allow such an enclave; I think it foundered on the fact that in the American West, every possible cubic inch of water is already owned by someone who has NO, ZERO, NADA intention of letting go.

    It is also likely that Russia may not be able to prevent Chinese spreading-like-water incursion into Siberia, something which I believe is already happening.

  5. elkern

    I strongly agree that China will be widely recognized as the most important country on Earth very soon (arguably, it already is). OTOH, I think the Thucydides Trap problem is both more immediate and more dangerous than Climate Change.

    The USA is unlikely to “go gently” into Second Place. China will have to carefully manage the relationship to avoid a [globally] catastrophic war.

    Politically, the USA is a complete mess these days. Both major Parties are fighting internal wars. Decades of focus on Culture War issues have sorted our Society into separate groups who are no longer capable of real communication across political lines. “Winning is the Only Thing” now; any politician who advocates compromise – in either Domestic or Foreign Policy – will lose their next election.

    Americans these days are *mad* – individually angry, and collectively crazy. “Road Rage” regularly escalates to murder; people get in fights with Airline steward[esse]s!

    IIRC, the first big news story of 2023 was The Chinese Spy Balloon saga. The GOP Noise Machine declared it a Threat, so the Biden Admin had to treat it like one to avoid appearing “weak”. The shoot-down was first-page news; the eventual admission that is was *not* a Dangerous Threat was buried in the back pages. The US political and military reaction revealed far more about our capabilities and intentions than any high-altitude pictures ever could have done.

    It was a perfect example of our collective insanity; I hope the Chinese Government learned from that.

    Can China resist the temptation to directly challenge the USA in ways which are likely to trigger WWIII?

    The fact that China is building a Navy larger than the US has is not really a good sign – see “Anglo-German naval arms race”! – but the details could matter. Is the new Chinese Navy built to police choke-points of the shipping lanes China depends on? Is it build to “project power” (“blow things up”) around the world? Is it built to sink the US Navy? Or just push it out of “Chinese” waters? Or is it a vanity project, built to show that China Is Number One now?

    OTOH, US political media will frame it as challenge to our collective manhood regardless of the details. If China is being smart about this, the best explanation for their shipbuilding might be just an attempt to goad the US into wasting time & resources on [more] military hardware while our Real Economy continues to fall apart.

    Ronald Reagan was [retroactively?] credited with using this strategy to beat the USSR. US leadership now kinda mirrors the “corrupt gerontocracy” of the late Soviet period, so it may well work for China now.

    But it only worked against Russia because a singular visionary leader – Gorbachev – chose to break his own country rather than blow up the world. I find it hard to imagine US leadership showing that kind of courage.

  6. Carborundum

    I’d recommend taking a look at the relative force mixtures of the two naval forces. Raw hull count is a pretty crappy metric, particularly when one looks at what has to be in and out to get the counts to the numbers cited – about a quarter look to have to be corvettes to get there, which are pretty small platforms (so small the US has nothing comparable, unless the Cyclone class are still knocking about – IIRC they were due to be decommissioned). As with much of this sort of tale, the cited article reads like an appropriations piece – big Navy has got to be antsy given what a huge slice of the budget pie aerospace forces are taking up. (Clearly, as the article notes, they also need to build differently.)

    The USN is a blue water, globe-spanning expeditionary force. The PLAN is very much not – they will probably get there, but it’s not going to be as quick as within the next decade. Ships are easy to build, but there’s a lot more to a navy than that – particularly if we’re talking about having the entire force capable of global reach, which US forces pretty much are.

    I wouldn’t get fixated on the defence side of the house. My view, the more energy the Chinese devote to that the more they’re taking away from true competitive advantage. Shiny toys and the ability to project force globally are really expensive and have a lot less utility than people think, unless one is playing the game poorly. The US has been suffering from “man with a hammer thinking all problems are nails” for some time now. Always been a trend, but since the Reagan era it’s become really overwhelming.

  7. StewartM

    Jan Wiklund

    The US, and the West, could have done better than equality—IF we hadn’t gone down the Reagan-Thatcher road of valuing short-term paper wealth over long-term real wealth. What we started to do in 1980 was to liquidate real wealth (the ability to generate and improve goods and services) into paper wealth, paper wealth largely held by the richest. The old proverb of “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him forever” is equally true for nations as it is individuals. Since 1980, if not before, the West has been un-learning how to fish.

    But not taking that road not taken would have left our rich far less rich than today. What essentially happened in 1980 was that the Greatest Gen–who had gotten government goodies far more than any other generation–decided that they had done it all by themselves and pulled up the ladder for future generations following them. This was a comforting myth as it allowed them to give themselves tax cuts while increasing taxation elsewhere.

    It was a very selfish, very short-term calculation based on Stirling Newberry’s “death bet” (which conservatives I have known who backed this stuff actually admitted to following–i.e., “just make the rest of my life as sweet as possible, and I don’t care what happens to everyone else after they die). Digging further, I think this “death bet” mentality arose because of the system of age-segregation we have come to enforce in our society, from kindergarten to the nursing home, which minimizes the contact one has with other generations. Previous societies, where the old daily rubbed elbows with the very young, teens, young adults, and the middle-aged, saw how their self-interest really niched with everyone else’s.

  8. CMarti

    How will China address the economic and demographic issues it faces? Its population is aging rapidly and that is robbing its economy of a large, viable workforce. Its population was historically young and mobile, which supported a growing manufacturing economy. But the Chinese workforce is now shrinking and aging as the country’s fertility rates drop.

  9. Stewart M:

    I agree with you that the stupidity follows naturally from descending into a rentier economy. Rentiers don’t have to know how anything is, as must producers. They just sit on their asses seeing the money coming in.

    But it is pointless to blame a “generation”. A generation generally has nothing in common except the birthdate. In fact rentierism is built into a booming economy. Sooner or later the capitalists stop bothering about production – it’s too much work, and by the way you just hit a roof where the continuing the same production paradigm any longer, so the get themselves retired. Carlota Perez has written well about this in Technological revolutions and financial capital, Edward Elgar 2002.

    Earlier, when this has happened, there has sometimes been a revolt against the egotistic upper-class. The speculation period 1770-90 was interrupted by the French revolution, the speculation period 1830-50 was interrupted by revolutions everywhere in Europe, the speculation period 1880-95 was interrupted by an intensive organization wave of trade unions, the speculation period 1920-40 was interrupted by the Indian independence movement and the Chinese revolution (and WWII). Lamentably, we have nothing of the like now. The socalled Global Justice Movement of 1992-2002 was a much smaller event that couldn’t change much.

    So it’s likely that the West will sink into something like what the Abbasid Califate ended in when it had turned from the wonder of the world to a speculative rentier economy. Or Spain. Or Song China. Only a revolution against the ruling class could save it.

  10. different clue

    @ Stewart M,

    . . . ” What essentially happened in 1980 was that the Greatest Gen–who had gotten government goodies far more than any other generation–decided that they had done it all by themselves and pulled up the ladder for future generations following them. This was a comforting myth as it allowed them to give themselves tax cuts while increasing taxation elsewhere.” . . .

    Yes, and their leadership classes created and paid their captive media to say ” the Boomers diddit”, and advise Gens X, Y,Z,Mill, etc. to “eat the Boomers”. ( Boomers grew up to be exactly what their Generation Greatest parents raised them and groomed them to be. The “Hippies” and the “Counterculture” was an effort by some Boomers to flee the Greatest Generation’s Korporate Deth Kultur. The ferocity of the Nixon Administration’s effort to crush, kill and destroy the sad little bands of Hippies and CounterCulture people shows how desperately the Nixonians and their Silent Greatest Generation Majority feared that the Young Boomers might escape and grow out their better culture. Might Pompidou’s savage repression of the “Spirit of ’68” movement in France be an expression of the same establishment culture war drive?)

  11. different clue

    By huge inundation, I suppose what is meant is a hyper-mega ginormous superflood lasting for weeks at least as it creeps slowly downstream. Like in Pakistan most recently.
    Maybe the GoC authorities were thinking about that when they permitted the building of all those ghost cities . . . all waiting for flood refugees to arrive.

    If the Chinagov authorities are thinking mid-range about mega flood survival, they might want to survey every spreadable hazard in the flood zones . . . every sewage factory, every cancer-juice vat, gene-waste sinkhole, etc. that water could pick up and move downstream. And remove every one of those things to up above the flood zone. Because if that stuff mixes into the flood water and moves out over the flood zone and pollutes every bit of land it covers and retreats from, China may not be rich enough to clean all that stuff up. Where do they get food then? From all their overseas landholdings and captive-source plantations perhaps. One Ball One Chain.

    I think the Chinese Navy is being expanded to guard the growing Chinese fish-mining fleets. First China will strip mine all the fish out of the China Sea. Then China will send navy-escorted fish-mining fleets further and further away from China and strip-mine all the fish out of the sea, begining in international waters and expanding to the national waters of any country that can’t fight back. Including America in the fullness of time? Maybe.

    Just because America is a bad hegemon does not mean that China will evolve into a better hegemon in the fullness of time. It may, it may not. People will want to give China a try, though, on the ” i can’t be worse than America” theory. And people could be right. People all over the world will find out over the next 50-80 years.

  12. different clue

    I remember a few weeks ago offering here a comment with a link to an extremely negative description of and prediction for events in China. I remember noting the paradox that while it described China as the world’s most totally locked-down hellworld brainscape of total mind and information control, the video had all been shot in China by ordinary Chinese and was brought successfully out.

    I then learned that the site hosting these videos, called China Observer, was / is created and maintained by Falun Gong. They will be extremely bitter and will predict the worst for the Communists, hoping for redemption and re-welcoming back into China. So I don’t know what to make of their analysis of and predictions for China.

    Over at his Sic Semper Tyrannis blog, Colonel Lang used to tell us the readers to analyze any and every bit of information as information quite apart from its source . . . and compare it to other bits of information from whatever source. I suspect he also considered ” who put the information out” as being further information itself . . . meta-information, if one wills . . . though he never said that additional piece. So perhaps all the anti-communist videos at China Observer should be approached in that spirit.

    One supposes that the relevant ChinaGov analysts could look at all these very same videos if they wish . . . without Falun Gong even knowing . . . and make adjustments in their approach based on their view of what Falun Gong is presenting.

    When China has become World Hegemon, it will find out that it has become all dressed up with no place to go . . . . the Life of the Party when the Party is Over. When that happens, can the ChinaGov of that time make the transition from The Chinese Dream to Survival in Eco-HellWorld? The first step for them to be able to make that transition would be for them to admit that such a transition will be called for and may be possible to make.

    Meanwhile, if American Survivalists can tear down and destroy the Upper Class and the American Exceptionalists then perhaps America can also transition to Survival in HellWorld as a kinder gentler North Korea having as near zero trade and/or contact as possible with the outside world, so as to prevent the outside world from interfering in Survivalist America’s effort to become an Eco-Survivalist society. Since the Outside World will be a China-ruled forcey-freetrade China rules world, an Eco-Survivalist America would have to devote all the energy it could spare into making America a No Trade Zone in the spirit of the pre-Meiji Japanese (Tokugawa?) Shogunate. If America can do that, America might survive.

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