The global fertility freefall is about to cause geopolitical upheaval in Asia, a panel of experts said this week. The experts, all contributors to the new book Population Decline and the Remaking of Great Power Politics, spoke at the world’s largest gathering of international relations specialists meeting in San Diego, California.
“For years scholars have said that if fewer people were born, the world would be a safer place. It turns out the opposite is true,” Dr. Susan Yoshihara told conferees at the 53rd annual convention of the International Studies Association, which drew more than 5000 scholars from around the world. Yoshihara is director of the International Organizations Research Group at C-FAM and coeditor of the new book with C-FAM Senior Fellow Douglas Sylva.
India’s leaders used to see a burgeoning population as a liability. Now they view it as a boon, Lisa Curtis said. India will add eleven million workers every year for the next several years. To translate this into economic wealth, India needs to overcome high social hurdles, the Heritage Foundation expert noted, such as its 25 percent illiteracy rate, labor inflexibility, and high rates of sex selective abortion and infanticide of baby girls.
China’s sex ratios are even more skewed, compounding problems with a workforce that will soon start to contract. This raises doubts about China’s rise, Gordon Chang said, noting that “Beijing sees India through the lens of demography.” Chinese leaders are concerned about the imminent demographic eclipse by India which might fuel political tensions with its neighbor.
While the two countries have increased trade from $5 billion to $70 billion in the last decade, their relationship still suffers from bitter memories of a border war, unresolved territorial disputes, and mutual suspicion in their rivalry for regional influence. Chang, a noted author and Forbes.com columnist, concluded that despite Beijing’s hopes, the coming century would not be kind to the Chinese.
That is because in order for a nation to be a “going concern”—a country with momentum—it must have more than just a geographical advantage, Francis Sempa said. It needs political organization and an abundance of manpower with efficiency, skill, and health. The author of several books on geopolitics said that demographic decline is causing stresses on alliances, such as the fact that European decline may necessitate more unilateral action by the United States.
Population decline may soon be straining the U.S.-Japan alliance also, Yoshihara added. Tokyo announced in January that the nation will lose a million people a year – a 30 percent population collapse by 2060. “As its closest ally in Asia turns inward, U.S. influence in the region hangs in the balance,” Yoshihara said, adding that the United States needs to look for new security partners to ensure regional stability and seize its own demographic advantage.
South Korea has also had to scale back its defense spending, Thomas Mahnken said. The Naval War college professor and former Pentagon official added that the U.S. needs to attract the “best and brightest” immigrants to preserve its demographic edge. America also needs to court new security partners such as India, the panel concluded, but they agreed that much more diplomacy was needed to forge a strategic partnership that could avert regional volatility.