John Robson: Dictatorships tend to misread their adversaries. Let’s hope China doesn’t

Looking for another reason to worry about China? Too bad. I have one anyway.

Everybody’s convinced the West is falling apart because we’re too decadent, too uptight, too capitalist, too socialist or something. Including their Politburo.

They figure we lack the stomach for a fight, as the did Japanese in 1941 and Hitler in 1939. Dictatorships tend to misread their adversaries. But you can see why they might believe NATO countries are too weak and irresolute to fight, and they’ve stolen enough technology to tackle the U.S. Navy.

Now here’s the bad part. Which you thought that already was. The Chinese leadership has every reason to be pessimistic about the long run. Their brittle dictatorship faces serious challenges from Hong Kong protests and Taiwan’s example. Their environment is hideously befouled (like the Soviet); their economy a house of cards; their crowded cities unsafe including medically. And down the road they will be poor and old.

No, really. Despite all the hyperventilating about China’s economy, they have a few very rich people, quite a few comfortable ones and a lot of poor ones, plus rampant fraud. It’s just that a small per capita GDP times 1.4 billion capita gives you a big shiny number.

Even worse, their one-child policy succeeded. Oh did it. Their birthrate is so far below replacement rate that total population may start falling by 2027, but people don’t want children even now that it’s allowed. See, having children is an act of hope, and the raw brutal materialism behind Chinese communism said life is worthless in theory and treated it that way in practice. And people got the message. Oh did they.

The Chinese government lacks even that dubious consolation. Right now they’ve got jackboots and missiles and spy-tech companies and African mining concessions. But down the road they see bleak trouble. Four grandparents per working adult isn’t a superpower militarily, economically or any other way.

So it’s now or never. There. Something else to worry about.