Politicians in the United States have expressed concern over China’s potential to challenge the United States as the world’s leading superpower for a number of years. It appeared that China was on track to become the largest economy in the world as its growth consistently outpaced that of Western rivals.

However, even the most optimistic assessments of China’s rise always anticipated a slowdown in growth. Due to poor decisions made by the Chinese leadership, that slowdown has arrived earlier than anticipated.

The dangers for China were highlighted by two recent developments. Officials in China announced that the country’s population fell for the first time in more than 60 years last year. Additionally, they made available data indicating that the economy of the nation expanded by only 3% in the previous year, which was significantly lower than the 5.5% that the government had set for growth.

The policy of China’s intimately connected to both of these outcomes.

The government’s decades-long efforts to cut birthrates across the country, including the rule that most families could only have one child, accelerated the population decline. Additionally, China’s reversal of its zero-Covid policy only a month ago left the nation unprepared for reopening, contributing to the economic slowdown.

China’s population decline has been anticipated by experts for a long time. The decline, according to some analysts, actually began years ago. Regardless, the drop is occurring sooner than anticipated; China and the United Nations had previously projected that the decline would not begin until the following decade.

The population is getting older faster. China’s median age has already surpassed that of the United States and may surpass 50 by 2050.

China’s trajectory is typical to some extent: As nations progress, birthrates tend to decline and median ages tend to rise.

Across East Asia as a whole, birth rates have also decreased. However, China’s one-child policy, which began in the late 1970s and continued until 2016, accelerated its progress; It currently has lower fertility rates than the United States, Europe, and Japan.

According to my colleagues Alexandra Stevenson and Zixu Wang, an expert on China’s demographic trends at the University of California, Irvine, China “will no longer be the young, vibrant, growing population.” When we consider China’s ageing and dwindling population, we will begin to appreciate it.”

China’s economic expansion is hindered by the decline in its population. According to Paul Krugman’s explanation in Times Opinion, an aging population results in a weaker labor force and tends to use more government resources for retirement and health care benefits.

The demographic news comes at a time when China’s economy is already growing at a slower rate. The majority of China’s growth had slowed for more than a decade prior to yesterday’s announcement.

By forcing large portions of the country, including economic engines like Shanghai, to abruptly and repeatedly lock down, the government’s zero-Covid policy exacerbated the issue.

In both instances, China’s potential was stifled by decisions made by its leadership.

This is obviously possible in any nation, but China faces a particularly significant threat due to its authoritarian government’s concentration of power and lack of public accountability. Power has become even more concentrated under Xi Jinping.

According to Carl Minzner, senior fellow for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, “where China of the 1980s and 1990s saw real debates over many state policies, party leaders today find themselves compelled to simply parrot Xi Jinping’s own policy line or fall silent to save their own skins.”

Future uncertainty Neither of these developments indicates that China’s rise will end. My colleague Max Fisher, who writes about international issues, said, “The phenomenon of modern China is unprecedented, which makes it very difficult to make predictions.” Anyone who makes big, bold, and splashy predictions for you is spinning you.

The question is whether China will become a true superpower, one that is as wealthy and influential as America. China is large enough to almost certainly continue to play a significant role on the world stage, and the size of its economy may still surpass that of the United States.

Consider: China’s G.D.P. per capita, which measures the country’s economic worth per person, is less than a fifth of that of the United States.

However, Chinese people are still significantly more likely to be poor than Americans.

China would not be the first nation to fail to live up to expectations that it would surpass the United States. In the 1980s, politicians and analysts in the United States worried that Japan would follow suit. Japan did not, in part due to a demographic crisis.

An 800-page textbook on the subject could be studied and learned by students, bringing them “close to the frontier of knowledge.” However, it would be much more challenging to write the subsequent edition of that textbook then.

Irwin stated, “The former is hard enough.” The second is impossible.

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