Published March 5, 2021
China’s rise as a threat to the United States and liberal democracy worldwide is clear. A move by China this week to encourage women to have more children is a sign that the threat may deepen sooner rather than later.
Long the world’s most-populous nation, China is on the verge of an unparalleled population decline. The Communist government instituted an infamous “one child” policy in 1979, prohibiting most women from bearing more than one live child during her lifetime. The policy reduced Chinese birthrates to well below the level needed to ensure a stable population, and recent efforts to slowly relax the rule have not significantly increased the birthrate. As a result, demographers estimate that China’s population will start to shrink in 2027.
The decline, once it starts to take hold, will dramatically reduce the Communist government’s ability to project global power. The working-age population — people between 18 and 65 — is already shrinking. This decline will become more dramatic in the next 10 to 15 years, sharply reducing China’s economy. A rise in the number of older people reliant on state or family support will also force a reallocation of resources toward consumption rather than investment, the military or foreign influence-buying. That could curtail China’s ability to project power globally 20 to 30 years from now.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.