Protests? In China?

Well yeah, Chinese citizens have been adopting the decadent Western practice of taking to the streets to object to actions by their government.

There were, of course, the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, spurred in part by inflation and demands for more democracy, which ended with bodies crushed under tank treads.

More recently, China’s so-called “zero tolerance” policy of strict Covid-19 lockdowns inflicted hardships that led to mass protests. This time, the government backed down. Now, partly due to fallout from that policy, China has to contend with protesting senior citizens.

“China’s government, strapped for cash after years of enforcing a costly zero-Covid policy, is cutting medical benefits and planning to raise the retirement age, in deeply unpopular moves that are fueling widespread public anger,” CNN reported on Thursday, March 30, 2023, adding, “Thousands of elderly people have been taking to the streets since January to protest big cuts to monthly medical benefit payments.” (Read story here.)

CNN explained these changes “are part of a national overhaul mainly intended to cover deficits in public medical insurance funds, … which have been drained after paying for mass testing, mandatory quarantine and other pandemic controls over the past three years.” Well what the heck, our government paid out billions not only for testing and vaccines, but also income replacement checks to businesses and individuals. It didn’t break the bank. Medicare is still in business.

In China, these protests are called “the gray hair movement.” CNN says the reforms represent “another broken promise” by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). But does eroding trust in government matter in a country where citizens can’t vote leaders out of office, and the regime is willing to use force to suppress popular movements?

At this point I’ll interject that even if the Covid-19 virus did escape from a Chinese lab, it bit them in the ass, didn’t it? Call it karma.

China’s real problem isn’t popular dissatisfaction with its policies, but an aging population (more people needing to be supported in old age, and fewer young workers to support them) and a slowing economy. Those aren’t problems that can be solved with tanks and putting soldiers in the streets. The West faces similar challenges, and they’re not easy ones — witness the recent violent demonstrations in France over government plans to raise the retirement age there — but may be better positioned to manage them.

Amazon’s blurb for the 2019 book Empty Planet, by a journalist and social researcher who posit that human population will peak in this century and then begin to decline, says “enormous disruption lies ahead …. We can already see the effects in Europe and parts of Asia, as aging populations and worker shortages weaken the economy and impose crippling demands on healthcare and social security.” (Sound familiar?) “The United States and Canada are well-positioned to successfully navigate these coming demographic shifts — that is, unless ….” Read the rest, and/or get the book, here.

The 2019 publication date is significant, because this book came out before Covid-19 decimated economies. The overall effect on population wasn’t that great because the virus killed only 1/1000th of the human population, although of course every death was an individual tragedy. The pandemic is important mainly because it was disruptive.

A China weakened by economic problems and internal dissent might seem like a good thing from our point of view. After all, the last thing we want is a more assertive China, which is what Xi’s governance is all about. He (and Russia’s Putin) want to topple, if they can, or at least weaken Western economic and military hegemony and create a new world order which they run or at least have more influence over. Needless to say, that’s counter to our interests.

But the CCP is still in charge there, and a wounded animal is a dangerous thing. More than once in history, economic vulnerability has led countries to start wars, usually by invading neighbors. China’s gray-hair protests probably won’t lead to anything that dramatic; they likely aren’t more than a distraction for China’s leadership, which is focused on taking over Taiwan and its deteriorating relations with the West (the U.S. in particular) — and watching their back. Xi and his cohort have to worry about India even more.

Probably all the health care cuts mean is more misery for Chinese seniors living under communism. We know communism is a failed system; even China, the last large communist country, has adopted a quasi-capitalist economy. If their version of Medicare gets plowed under, there probably are some folks in America who will be laughing and hoping ours will be next.

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