Enacted in 1979 by China’s Communist Party, the controversial “One Child Policy” was primarily meant to slow the country’s rapid population growth, while capping the growing drain on China’s limited resources.
Even though the government’s primary objectives were arguably achieved through these extreme measures, it has been at an extraordinary human cost. The draconian enforcement of these policies, combined with the unintended consequences on families and the cultural preference for male children, will have an everlasting impact on the country’s future.
Fast forward to today, and the policy is still in place, but to a lesser effect. Since early 2016, families have been allowed to have two children – but even with this change in place, China still has a self-inflicted demographic disaster on its hands.
In the below population pyramids created by Aron Strandberg, the very different trajectories of China and India are compared directly. China is not only skewing older and more male – it is also losing its strong base of younger workers that could potentially support the rest of the population.
China’s “population pyramid” is not really a pyramid at all – in the coming decades, it’ll look more like a single pillar stuck propping up a burgeoning elderly demographic of people born before 1979.
And over time, the unintended and ongoing effects of population control will be extremely impactful on China’s future. As one example of the emerging challenges, a recent estimate published in Scientific American pegged China’s shortage of women at 62 million, creating a situation where there’ll be millions of men who are unable to marry.
This gender imbalance exacerbates an already existing shortfall at the younger end of China’s population spectrum – and the end result will be a rapidly falling ratio of workers to retirees in the Chinese economy:
Today, the ratio is roughly seven workers per retiree – and by 2050, when China’s population is 100 million people fewer than it is today, there will be just two workers per retiree.
A New Population Paradigm
As China struggles with a declining population and a lack of young people, India is expected to takes its place as the most populous country in the world by roughly 2027.
This new paradigm will be an incredibly interesting one to watch.
By the year 2100, China won’t be home to a single one of the world’s 20 most populous cities.
Instead, these massive metropolises will almost exclusively be located in places like India and Africa – and some of them, like Mumbai, will hold 60 million or more inhabitants.
China’s New Hope
While this shift in global demographics is going to be extremely difficult to deal with for China, there is optimism that increasing levels of automation and the emergence of artificial intelligence will help make up for any shortfalls.
The AI market alone is expected to drive $7 trillion in GDP growth by 2030, and China’s investments in robotics and automation are sure to keep the country a center of manufacturing in the future – even if those factories are being staffed with robots instead of workers.
China’s Economy: 40 Years of Soaring Exports
China’s economy today is completely different than 40 years ago; in 2021 the country makes up the highest share of exports globally.
Animated Chart: 40 Years of Soaring Exports in China
China has the second highest GDP in the world, and it exports 15% of all the world’s goods. But how did this come to be?
A mere 40 years ago, China’s economy was in an entirely different situation, making up less than 1% of global exports and still in the infancy stages of building its economy. The above animated chart from the UNCTAD showcases China’s rise to global trade dominance over time.
Timeline: The Rise to Power
The China of the mid-20th century looks remarkably different when compared to the modern-day nation. Prior to the 1980s, China was going through a period of social upheaval, poverty, and dictatorship under Mao Zedong.
Beginning in the late 1970s, China’s share of global exports stood at less than 1%. The country had few trade hubs and little industry. In 1979, for example, Shenzhen was a city of just around 30,000 inhabitants.
In fact, China (excluding Taiwan* and Hong Kong) did not even show up in the top 10 global exporters until 1997 when it hit a 3.3% share of global exports.
|Year||Share of Global Exports||Rank|
*Editor’s note: The above data comes from the UN, which lists Taiwan as a separate region of China for political reasons.
In the 1980s, several cities and regions, like the Pearl River Delta, were designated as Special Economic Zones. These SEZs had tax incentives that worked to attract foreign investment.
Additionally, in 1989, the Coastal Development Strategy was implemented to use strategic regions along the country’s coast as catalysts for economic development.
The 1990s and Onwards
By the 1990s, the world saw the rise of global value chains and transnational production lines, with China offering a cheap manufacturing hub due to low labor costs.
Rounding out the ‘90s, the Western Development Strategy was implemented in 1999, dubbed the “Open Up the West” program. This program worked to build up infrastructure and education to retain talent in China’s economy, with the goal of attracting further foreign investment.
Finally, China officially joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 which allowed the country to progress full steam ahead.
Made in China
Today China is a trade giant and manufacturing behemoth. Only the U.S. and Germany come close to its share of global exports, sitting at 8.1% and 7.8% respectively.
|Rank||Country||Share of Global Exports (2020)|
|#6||🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR||3.1%|
|#7||🇰🇷 South Korea||2.9%|
China’s manufacturing industry has become dominant in producing just about anything from commonplace household items to integral pieces in automotive manufacturing. Some staples of Chinese manufacturing are:
- Precision instruments
- Industrial machinery for computers and smartphones
COVID-19 made China’s integral role in the global economy even more visceral, as major delays in the supply chain occurred when the virus hit the country.
An Economic Superpower
In 2021, China’s trade recovery from the crisis has bested most other countries—in Q1 2021, its exports grew by almost 50% compared to the previous year’s quarter, to around $710 billion.
And the country is not slowing down any time soon. Further plans for economic development are well under way, like Made in China 2025, with the goal of becoming a dominant player in global high-tech manufacturing. Additionally, the famous One Belt, One Road initiative has been funding infrastructure projects globally over the past decade, and the country is also a founding member of the RCEP—which is soon to be the world’s biggest trading bloc.
However, China still faces a series of challenges, such as:
- Population decline
- The onset of labor saving technology
- Trade wars with U.S. and sanctions from other trade partners, like Europe
- The emergence of ASEAN trade powers, like Vietnam
A declining population has many implications like a shrinking workforce and domestic market. Additionally, many companies are setting up shop in less costly manufacturing hubs like Vietnam.
Furthermore, inexpensive innovations in labor-saving technologies, such as robotics and automation, have already begun to undermine the cheap manual labor that has made China the world’s manufacturer.
All of these elements and more could potentially spell a slowing of growth in China’s export dominance. However, while the future for China may not be certain, currently, global trade and production could not function without it.
The Biggest Business Risks in 2021
We live in an increasingly volatile world, where change is the only constant. Which are the top ten business risks to watch out for?
The Biggest Business Risks Around the World
We live in an increasingly volatile world, where change is the only constant.
Businesses, too, face rapidly changing environments and associated risks that they need to adapt to—or risk falling behind. These can range from supply chain issues due to shipping blockages, to disruptions from natural catastrophes.
As countries and companies continue to grapple with the effects of the pandemic, nearly 3,000 risk management experts were surveyed for the Allianz Risk Barometer, uncovering the top 10 business risks that leaders must watch out for in 2021.
The Top 10 Business Risks: The Pandemic Trio Emerges
Business Interruption tops the charts consistently as the biggest business risk. This risk has slotted into the #1 spot seven times in the last decade of the survey, showing it has been on the minds of business leaders well before the pandemic began.
However, that is not to say that the pandemic hasn’t made awareness of this risk more acute. In fact, 94% of surveyed companies reported a COVID-19 related supply chain disruption in 2020.
|Rank (2021)||% Responses||Risk Name||Business Risk Examples||Change from 2020|
|#1||41%||Business Interruption||Supply chain disruptions||↑|
|#2||40%||Pandemic Outbreak||Health and workforce issues, restrictions on movement||↑|
|#3||40%||Cyber Incidents||Cybercrime, IT failure/outage, data breaches, fines and penalties||↓|
|#4||19%||Market Developments||Volatility, intensified competition/new entrants, M&A, market stagnation, market fluctuation||↑|
|#5||19%||Legislation/ Regulation Changes||Trade wars and tariffs, economic sanctions, protectionism, Brexit, Euro-zone disintegration||↓|
|#6||17%||Natural Catastrophes||Storm, flood, earthquake, wildfire||↓|
|#8||13%||Macroeconomic Developments||Monetary policies, austerity programs, commodity price increase, deflation, inflation||↑|
|#10||11%||Political Risks And Violence||Political instability, war, terrorism, civil commotion, riots and looting||↑|
Note: Figures do not add to 100% as respondents could select up to three risks per industry.
Pandemic Outbreak, naturally, has climbed 15 spots to become the second-most significant business risk. Even with vaccine roll-outs, the uncontrollable spread of the virus and new variants remain a concern.
The third most prominent business risk, Cyber Incidents, are also on the rise. Global cybercrime already causes a $1 trillion drag on the economy—a 50% jump from just two years ago. In addition, the pandemic-induced rush towards digitalization leaves businesses increasingly susceptible to cyber incidents.
Other Socio-Economic Business Risks
The top three risks mentioned above are considered the “pandemic trio”, owing to their inextricable and intertwined effects on the business world. However, these next few notable business risks are also not far behind.
Globally, GDP is expected to recover by +4.4% in 2021, compared to the -4.5% contraction from 2020. These Market Developments may also see a short-term 2 percentage point increase in GDP growth estimates in the event of rapid and successful vaccination campaigns.
In the long term, however, the world will need to contend with a record of $277 trillion worth of debt, which may potentially affect these economic growth projections. Rising insolvency rates also remain a key post-COVID concern.
Persisting traditional risks such as Fires and Explosions are especially damaging for manufacturing and industry. For example, the August 2020 Beirut explosion caused $15 billion in damages.
What’s more, Political Risks And Violence have escalated in number, scale, and duration worldwide in the form of civil unrest and protests. Such disruption is often underestimated, but insured losses can add up into the billions.
No Such Thing as a Risk-Free Life
The risks that businesses face depend on a multitude of factors, from political (in)stability and growing regulations to climate change and macroeconomic shifts.
Will a post-pandemic world accentuate these global business risks even further, or will something entirely new rear its head?
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