The punditocracy assembled yesterday, as they do every Sunday, to yelp their yin-yang talking points that pass, these days, for wisdom. Mostly they want to talk about who, a year and a half from now, might be chosen as the new captain of the Titanic — Hillary or anti-Hillary? Then, like the proverbial elephant terrorized by a mouse, they vent about the latest pimply-faced adolescent who, dreaming of celebrity and inspired by an ISIS website, takes the first giant step toward jihad: gets in touch with an FBI informant for his very own ACME bomb-making kit. Then before the pundits rest, they make their fervent nominations for our next war.
There are lots of candidates: resume Afghanistan, Iraq II, bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran, Russia Redux. But an emerging favorite is China. It seems a deliciously terrifying prospect — the world’s number one economy, most populous country, reinventing the Silk Road, dethroning the dollar as the world’s currency of choice, extending its hegemony over the South China Sea by building a sand castle. What a worthy opponent, bent on taking over the world. Truly, this could be our next good war.
One exhilarated panelist this weekend burst out: “We are already in a virtual state of war with China.” It was, he insisted, the Most Important Thing in the World.
The thing is, if you are determined to pick a fight with someone who is on life support, you must be quick. To believe that China is going to survive another decade, let alone rise to world domination, you must ignore the following stories, all published in the past few weeks:
- China is running out of water. Its own environment ministry classifies 60% of its underground water and one third of its surface water as so polluted it is “unfit for human contact.” That does not mean “Don’t drink it.” It means “Don’t touch it.”
- Air pollution in China kills half a million people a year. 90% of China’s 161 major cities failed to meet the national standard for clean air in 2014. Just breathing, in most major cities, is equivalent to smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. Lung cancer fatalities have quintupled in 30 years.
- China’s population is increasingly old and sick. Half the population is estimated to be pre-diabetic. 115 million people have diabetes, 225 million suffer from mental illness, 160 million have high blood pressure. By 2040, China is expected to have more people suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease than the rest of the world combined. The costs of these afflictions to the Chinese economy is already astronomical, and growing fast.
- China is running short of productive land. Pollution of soil from factory smokestacks, and from excessive fertilizer and pesticide application, is endangering China’s ability to feed itself.
- China’s faltering economy is constraining government budgets and fostering instability. Now, talking about war is a time-honored way of getting your restive people to settle down and salute the flag. But actually going to war, when you’re short of money, your people are brandishing pitchforks at you, and you’re dependent on the rest of the world for coal and food? Not recommended.
What is it that Chairman Mao said of the West, all those years ago? “In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of; it is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain.”