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Thursday, November 17

Hello India, China is dying

Jogging on the edge of hell

Far be it from me to challenge the venerable Vikram Sood's overview of present Indo-Sino relations, which he lays out in his October 27 writing for ORF, India needs to find other ways to deal with China. He emphasizes, correctly, that it's unrealistic for India to attempt to outspend China as a way to greater influence in its neighborhood:
It is still necessary to remember that China’s GDP was US $ 10.8 trillion in 2015, according to World Bank figures. This makes it almost five times bigger than India’s at US $ 2.07 trillion. According to economic expert Mohan Guruswamy, the Chinese economy may be slowing down, but even at seven per cent rate of growth it adds nearly US $ 500 billion to global growth whereas at 7.9 per cent we add only US $ 140 billion. According to him, we need to grow at least at 9-10 per cent for the next decade to make up this deficit. This is our other challenge. Besides at a figure of US $140 billion, China’s defence budget outstrips India’s budget of about US $ 58 billion. Any suggestions that India will overtake China in the decades ahead need to factor in these realities. We simply have to find other ways to dealing with China.
Yet he doesn't offer suggestions as to what other ways these would be. And he goes nowhere near what I have come to consider the most important aspect about China, which is that geographically it's dying.  

In China, the entwined scourges of desertification, drought, and water table depletion are on the march, as they are in other parts of the world that rapidly urbanized at the expense of rural land management and in the face of vast deserts. From The New York Times October 23 report, China’s deserts taking over as they expand into vast sea of sand:
Nearly 20 percent of China is desert, and drought across northern China is getting worse. One recent estimate said China had 21,000 square miles more desert than what existed in 1975 — about the size of Croatia. As the Tengger [Desert] expands, it is merging with two other deserts to form a vast sea of sand that could become uninhabitable.
Local governments in desert regions began relocating people away from the encroaching sands decades ago. But China’s densely populated areas are pushing toward the deserts, as the deserts grow toward the cities.
Vicious Cycle

Attempts by China's government to fight the encroaching deserts by paying farmers to stay in place and fight off the sands are only worsening the situation:
But farming is also becoming more difficult. Huang Chunmei, who grew up in the town of Tonggunao’er and now farms there, said the water table was 2 meters, or about 6 feet, below ground during her childhood, and “now, you have to dig 4 or 5 meters.”
The more farmers fight the desert, the more water it takes to do this, which rapidly depletes water resources and poisons water in wells through very low water tables, thus poisoning farmers and crops alike.  

All attempts by the government to fight off the desert by reversing population relocations, including erecting cities in the suburbs of the largest population centers, also contribute to the vicious cycle.

From Rob Schmitz's April 25 report for Marketplace, A warning for parched China: a city runs out of water:
Yang Shufang wakes up at 5 o'clock each morning and fetches water.
"I bring a few buckets, enough for drinking or cooking," she says.
Yang doesn’t live in the remote countryside, and her water isn’t from a village well. She lives on the seventh floor of a luxury condominium complex in Lintao, a Chinese city with nearly 200,000 people that’s run out of water.
"Right after Chinese New Year, water stopped coming out of the tap," Yang says. "Now we have to stand in line each morning at the front gate of our complex with our buckets and wait for water to be delivered."
Lintao is in Gansu province, in China’s arid northwest, situated along the Tao River, a tributary of the Yellow River. The combination of a drought and a surge of urban development means the city’s underground water supply has dwindled to dangerously low levels, leaving tens of thousands of people without easy access to the precious resource.
Experts fear Lintao could be a sign of things to come.
"Four hundred Chinese cities now face a water shortage. One hundred and ten cities face a severe water shortage. This is a very serious problem," says Liu Changming, a retired hydrologist for the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.
China is home to more than 20 percent of the world’s population, but it contains only 7 percent of the world’s fresh water. Liu, who advises China’s leaders on water policy, says all of China's so-called "water scarce" cities are in northern China, home to half a billion people, and a region that contributes nearly half of China’s economic growth. Former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao once called northern China’s water shortage “a threat to the survival of the Chinese nation.”
The desertification is not politely confining itself to rural areas. Hell is banging its fist on the doors of Chinese cities that are already facing the threat of water depletion.

Yet by the time the country's leaders realized what was happening, it was too late. They had based their industrialization development model on the American one, without taking into account America's incredibly diverse climates and geography, which span much of a huge continent, and its huge freshwater resources. And without factoring in how a megapopulation would accelerate the worst consequences of China's rapid urbanization.

Things have gotten to the point where every solution creates a worse problem. There aren't enough people in China to both support its export-centered industrial base and battle the onslaught of desertification in the country. But even if they could return enough people to the rural areas, they'd be quickly draining the dwindling water resources.  

As Schmidt's report continues he lays out a story more awful than any horror novel Edgar Allen Poe could have dreamed up. Despite the government's ambitious water transfer schemes and vast networks of dams, there is no way out for China, no way to avoid an awful fate.

Behind the Mask

Why has China's plight largely escaped notice from outside observers?  I think the answer in one word is "diaspora" or perhaps "dispersal," which has masked China's true situation. Large numbers of Chinese live and work outside China. This is partly because China's external development model relies heavily on Chinese labor instead of local labor and often exclusively so. In fact that's been one of the complaints about China in countries that receive significant economic aid from Beijing for development projects.

What Beijing has done is reverse the traditional international development model, which disburses development loan money to governments that then hire local contractors to build the development projects. China's government uses its own contractors and they use Chinese labor.

The Chinese development model, in combination with other tactics, pulls a great many Chinese away from their country. One of the tactics is sending large numbers of Chinese abroad to study; another is using large numbers to 'colonize' regions that are quite remote in the mainland, such as Tibet, and even India's Ladakh region. 

The transfer of a large Chinese workforce to other countries has greatly contributed to another vicious cycle, which is the corrosive effect of the remittances system on both host and recipient countries. But that's another story.

What Should India Do?

I'd say India should do everything possible to avoid China's fate. It's self-defeating to expend human and financial capital in the attempt to copy or compete with a society that bought into the wrong internal development model and is dying as a result. 

Will there come a day when Chinese attempt to militarily conquer India in order to escape their wasteland? I don't think the possibility can be ruled out. But I think Delhi should make a clear distinction between expenditures for a strong defense and those for economic competition and influence outside India.


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