Social and environmental costs have long taken a back seat to the Chinese leadership's drive for national economic and technological development. But now the leader of China is seeking a third term. Has he earned it?
It depends on the metric. A quick recap for context is helpful.
Remember the Beijing Model?
It was only 10 years ago that the world was all abuzz about the "China miracle." The "Beijing model" of national development was certain to replace the liberal free trade model of the West. For quite a while, it seemed that it would. To the world's great detriment, that may still be the case.
Recall that as China's economy grew by double digits for most of three decades, it saw amazing growth in both manufacturing and sophisticated technology sectors. Much of China's technological, biomedical, and robotics capabilities now rival those of Europe, Japan, and the United States.
The Belt and Road Strategy
China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative exported the Beijing model's promises to much of the world. But after the deals with Beijing were done with weaker developing nations, those nations found themselves in bottomless debt traps that effectively transferred their national wealth to their Beijing overlords.
That's fine and dandy, as far as Beijing is concerned. Chinese-owned ports, railways, factories, and farms are now on every continent—many in quite strategic locations. China's power and influence are now felt around the world.
Penetrating the West
Moreover, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) spent decades diligently penetrating the West's political, cultural, media, academic, and financial establishments. Its efforts have paid off. Chinese influence is in our highest and most prestigious universities, news agencies, entertainment media, and centers of technological innovation.
Finally, China's military power is now, in key respects, a top-tier fighting force. Its blue water navy now rivals the U.S. Navy, with the ability to project power throughout the Asia Pacific and beyond. Plus, Beijing's hypersonic missile technology supposedly leads the world, for which the United States has no effective defenses.
In light of such multiple successes, one might say about all of this, "What's not to like?"
Destroying the Economy
There's plenty, actually. Technological and even geopolitical successes are important, but they're transitory and far less important than the actual state of Chinese society and of the land and resources in the country itself.
China faces a number of deep-seated and widespread environmental and human crises that are rapidly destabilizing the country.
As the absolute authority over every aspect of Chinese life, the Party leadership bears full responsibility for the country's policy failures, and examples are plentiful.
The "zero-COVID" policy has perhaps irreversibly stifled manufacturers' activity. By locking down major financial and manufacturing hubs such as Shanghai and Shenzhen, tens of millions were suddenly out of work for months on end. This not only affected China's productivity, but disrupted supply chains, prompting foreign companies to move their operations out of China.
The extended lockdowns have also increased the Party's control over the people. This may seem to be a victory for the CCP, but, ultimately, it's damaging the human spirit in China, which is already showing signs of serious long-term demographic and economic impacts.
Destroying the People
The Party's short-sighted one-child policy, which was finally changed in 2016, has created huge social crises that are only now beginning to manifest themselves, with China now facing a dramatic baby shortage. Births are at record lows, as young Chinese aren't in a hurry to get married or have children. Even though Beijing has recently instituted a three-child policy, the rapidly falling fertility rate and declining working-age population trends remain unchanged.
At the other end of the age spectrum, for the generation nearing age 60, there isn't enough money to fund their government pensions. The system faces a shortfall of up to $1.4 trillion as soon as within the next five years. As a result, the Party is delaying the retirement age gradually over the next three years. But that's creating another problem with younger workers, who see the delayed retirement as cutting out opportunities for them.
In short, China is dealing with a demographic crisis of falling birthrates, an aging population, and shortfalls of trillions of dollars in pension funds. It has too few workers to sustain an economy that's on the downside of its productive capacity under the current regime.
As the economic picture grows gloomier with continuously bad news, such as the collapse of the real estate sector, so does people's outlook on the future.
Cynicism is felt and expressed differently by younger and older generations. The former express their cynicism in media and culture, while the latter work harder, live frugally, and save more to get through a future that looks less optimistic.
Destroying the Lands and Waters
On an even more fundamental level, China's environmental toxicity constitutes a separate but related crisis on its own, with far-reaching implications. Under the CCP leadership, up to 90 percent of the country's groundwater is tainted by industrial, agricultural, and human waste. Consequently, 70 percent of China's rivers are toxic to human beings. The economic cost of this water crisis alone is an estimated $1.15 trillion every year.
What's more, China's farmland has been ravaged by industrial pollution. Yields have fallen dramatically and will only worsen with the country's increasing reliance on coal and fossil fuels. This will only drive Beijing's reliance on foreign food sources as it despoils its homeland upon which 1.4 billion people live.
Like its draconian CCP virus lockdown policy, the CCP has been quick to use the pollution crisis as a reason to further control and harass the people. One more sad, destructive chapter under the CCP's iron fist.
Of course, this has been just a surface-level discussion of the lesser-known costs of the CCP's ravaging of China and its people. However, it seems difficult to overestimate the societal impacts that are already beginning to emerge.
From a historical perspective, a nation is made up of three basic parts: people, culture, and the land on which they live. Somewhere way down the line is its economic activity. In the drive for global supremacy, the current leadership is systematically destroying all three, resulting in a desperate people, a cynical culture, and lands and waters poisoned and desolate.
Presumably, the leadership will be reelected to continue on that path.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.