The Security Risks of China’s Abnormal Demographics
At the Third Plenum held in November 2013, the Chinese Communist Party announced the establishment of a new National Security Commission designed to increase state security and social stability and provide greater coordination between internal and external security. This linkage between internal and external security is one that security scholars and policymakers have not sufficiently recognized. While external issues such as relations with Japan, Taiwan and North Korea, and concerns related to China’s military power and nuclear weapons, are of major concern to those seeking peaceful relations with China, we argue that the security risks posed by China’s abnormal demographics must be taken into account when assessing China’s security. Fertility patterns, high birth-sex ratios and the resulting gender imbalance, when coupled with inequalities between rural and urban workers, have contributed to increases in societal instability characterized by a rise in violent crime, the numbers of secret societies and gangs, the levels of muscular nationalism, and prostitution and trafficking in women and children. These national effects, in turn, can have regional and international repercussions as they undermine national stability and security.
According to China’s 2010 Census, men currently outnumber women by at least 34 million, an imbalance in large part due to China’s fertility policy (known as the one child policy) and a preference for sons. Despite government attempts to stop the use of sex-selective technologies to manipulate the sex of offspring, birth-sex ratios remain high (118-120 male babies for every 100 female babies born in 2010). The dearth of women among the young adult population is of particular concern to demographers, who estimate that the sex ratio of the marriageable population will continue to rise and will peak between 2030 and 2045, with the effect that at least 20 percent of men will be unable to marry. A surplus of 40-50 million bachelors throughout the mid- to late 21st century will have a significant effect on China’s stability and development as a nation: Male criminal behavior drops significantly upon marriage, and the presence of significant numbers of unmarriageable men is potentially destabilizing to societies. In the case of China, the fact that a sizeable percentage of young adult males will not be making that transition will have negative social repercussions, including increased crime, violent crime, crimes against women, vice, substance abuse and the formation of gangs that are involved in all of these antisocial behaviors.
China’s high sex ratios are not a matter of concern for China alone; as former secretary of state Hillary Clinton noted, “the subjugation of women is a direct threat to the security of the United States,” and in this case, she is certainly correct.