May 3, 2021


China Is a Paper Dragon: U.S. policy makers should look to the future with a little more confidence and a lot more trust in trade, markets, and the superior potential of a free people. (David Frum, 5/03/21, The Atlantic)

 In 2018, the Tufts University professor Michael Beckley published a richly detailed study of Chinese military and economic weaknesses. The book is titled Unrivaled: Why America Will Remain the World's Sole Superpower. [...]

When Chinese forces do train, Beckley argues, the exercises bear little resemblance to the challenges the People's Liberation Army would face in a great-power conflict:

PLA exercises remain heavily scripted (the red team almost always wins) ... Most exercises involve a single service or branch, so troops lack the ability to conduct joint operations, and assessments are often nothing more than "subjective judgments based on visual observation rather than on detailed quantitative data" and are scored "based simply on whether a training program has been implemented rather than on whether the goals of the program have been achieved."

Worried about Chinese students' high scores on comparative math tests? You're looking at the curated outputs of highly selective groups of students.

Whereas public school is free through high school in the United States, China's government only covers the costs of elementary and middle school. At many Chinese high schools, families have to pay tuition and other expenses, and these outlays are among the highest in the world. Consequently, 76 percent of China's working-age population has not completed high school.

Things don't improve at the college level.

Many Chinese college students describe their universities as "diploma factories," where student-teacher ratios are double the average in U.S. universities, cheating is rampant, students spend a quarter of their time studying "Mao Zedong thought," and students and professors are denied access to basic sources of information, such as Google Scholar and certain academic journal repositories.

Surely China is winning the industries of the future? Not really.

Chinese firms' total spending on R&D as a percentage of sales revenue stalled at levels four times below the average for American firms. ... Chinese firms remain dependent on foreign technologies and manual labor and have a rudimentary level of automation and digitization: on average Chinese enterprises have just nineteen robots per ten thousand employees; U.S. firms, by contrast, use an average of 176 robots per ten thousand employees.

But isn't China sprinting to overtake the United States? Yes, but it's stumbling badly in that pursuit.

China now leads the world in retractions of scientific studies due to fraud; one-third of Chinese scientists have admitted to plagiarizing or falsifying results (versus 2 percent of U.S. scientists); and two-thirds of China's R&D spending has been lost to corruption.

Undergirding these examples and dozens more like them is Beckley's clarifying theoretical insight: Repression is expensive.

Comparing China's military spending to that of the United States, for example, doesn't make much sense. The Chinese military's first and paramount mission is preserving the power of the Chinese Communist Party against China's own people. 

Posted by at May 3, 2021 4:06 PM