Grand Triumphalism Against a Darker Background of Decline and Decay

High Speed Silk Road Routes to All of Asia and Europe

Xi Jinping, 63, the president of China and general secretary of the Communist Party, wants to revive the myth and build a New Silk Road, in large parts along the old trade route. It would mark the return of a legend. For some time now, many of his speeches have included references to “yi dai yi lu,” or “a belt, a road.” It is a gigantic project, and China envisions about 60 countries being involved, or about half of humanity.

CRH380 (China Railway High-speed) Harmony bullet trains are seen at a high-speed train maintenance base in Wuhan, Hubei province, in this file photo taken December 25, 2012. A team of Chinese firms, along with the Export-Import Bank of China, are interested in designing, building, financing and maintaining California's proposed 800-mile high-speed rail project. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA

(China Railway High-speed) Harmony bullet trains are seen at a high-speed train maintenance base in Wuhan, Hubei province, in this file photo taken December 25, 2012. A team of Chinese firms, along with the Export-Import Bank of China, are interested in designing, building, financing and maintaining California’s proposed 800-mile high-speed rail project. REUTERS/Stringer

China wants to expand trade along the route and develop infrastructure. Beijing has earmarked $40 billion (€36 billion euros) for the project, to be invested in building new roads, and in railroads, pipelines and ports from Lithuanian to the Horn of Africa, Sri Lanka to Israel, and Pakistan to Iran. Two railroad lines lead to Germany, one from Zhengzhou to Hamburg and the other from Chongqing to Duisburg.


Follow the route of the new silk road from Xinjiang to Belarus

While Struggling to Show a Triumphal Image to the World, Foundations Crack and Crumble

What worries Chinese leaders most is not the border conflicts they have created in the South China Sea and India but rather past mistakes that threaten to destroy China from within. This includes a growing worker shortage and an unsustainable mountain of bad debt. __ Die Fast or Die Slow

Debt, Demography, Decay

China’s mountain of debt calls into question most of the grand plans of expansion and conquest that China’s leaders have announced to a restless and largely impoverished public. A rapid shrinking of China’s workforce and exponential aging of the overall population raises the question of “who will do the work and fund future pensions?” And the premature decay and collapse of Chinese construction across the nation forces honest observers to wonder how long any of it will last.

As for China’s vaunted new military, China can not even design and build a reliable military turbine engine. The dragon’s desperate dependence upon cyber-espionage and technology theft reveals some the many deep cracks underlying China’s grand goals.

Understanding the massive China bubble will give one a clear advantage in understanding China’s trajectory. Understanding the depth of corruption in China will add considerably more perspective.

[Chinese] market plunges are early manifestations of a historic slowdown in the Chinese economy, one that is bringing the country’s soaring growth rates down to earth after three decades of expansion. But the current slowdown pales in comparison with a looming societal crisis: In the years ahead, as China’s Baby Boomers reach retirement age, the country will transition from having a relatively youthful population, and an abundant workforce, to a population with far fewer people in their productive prime.

… With the number of working-age Chinese men already declining—China’s working-age population shrank by 4.87 million people last year—labor is in short supply. As wages go up, maintaining the world’s largest standing army is becoming prohibitively expensive. Nor is the situation likely to improve: After wages, rising pension costs are the second-biggest cause of increased military spending. __ Atlantic – China in Twilight

China rose to economic power on a foundation of large-scale technology transfer and massive foreign investment. The foreign investment is in rapid retreat, and most of the technology transfer to China these days comes from outright theft, piracy, and espionage — rather than through voluntary contracts, as in the 1980s and 1990s.

China’s growing mountain of debt built upon debt, its market volatility, its forests of rapidly crumbling ghost cities, all reveal an expanding system of capital misallocation and deep corruption which cannot be reformed — at least not by the current mindset of Chinese leadership.

China is in Decline, But so is Russia

Russians Today Shorter and Weaker than Their Parents

Russians coming to adulthood now are approximately two centimeters shorter and much weaker than those who did so as recently as the 1970s and 1980s, the result not of genetic degradation but rather of a wide variety of environmental factors, according to researchers at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences…

… Not only are Russians coming of age today shorter than their parents, the Center says; but their bodies have smaller muscle masses – and that has economic consequences. Today, “approximately 30 percent” of young Russians will be unable to perform jobs that require physical exertion. __ via WindowonEurasia

Russia is facing many of the same economic and demographic problems as China, except much worse. The quality of Russian sperm is in rapid decline, and so apparently is the physical quality of Russian male bodies. No wonder most of the Olympic medals won by “Russia” in the recent Rio Olympics were won by non-ethnic Russians.

Declining China and Russia Compete for Primacy over all of Asia

But only one of the nations-in-decay can dominate most of the Asian landmass. Both have worked hard to project images of unstoppable power and energy. But a deep, open-eyed, and open-minded look at both the dragon and the bear will reveal that as bad as its problems are, China has more staying power than its neighbor to the north and northwest.

The new Silk Road will not be as grand, expansive, and all-empowering as Chinese propagandists attempt to portray. But it will facilitate the economic encirclement of Russia which China is seeking. And as rapidly as the forces of decay are working on China’s visceral foundations, they are eating away at Russia’s even more rapidly.

A Natural Relentless Ongoing Incursion by China Into the Former Russia

A Natural Relentless Ongoing Incursion by China Into the Former Russia

China will take full advantage of Russia’s growing weaknesses, while it is still able to do so. Since China has become the go-to supplier for most of Russia’s electronic and other high tech military needs, China will be able to control any response by Russia’s military to Chinese provocations. Assuming Russia can still man a meaningful military when China makes its move.

Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.

Try to build a relatively safe and effective base of operations in a good location. Geopolitical shifts are certain, many of them quite significant.

No despotic government will stand by and watch the type of decay described above, without attempting to pre-empt the inevitable fallout. Putin is a fountain of bad decisions, and his supply is nowhere near exhausted. Xi is only marginally more savvy, but that margin is likely to provide a meaningful difference in outcome.

The time is coming when Dangerous Children will be needed far out of proportion to their actual supply. Do what you can.


Desperate Putin: Independent Levada Centre now listed as “Foreign Agent” by Kremlin It is getting much harder to glean reliable information from the suddenly darker empire.

Rosstat getting better at “lying with statistics”

Like a turtle, Russia’s economy has fallen and cannot get up

If world affairs were a card game, Putin would have a hand that at its very best contained, let’s say, three eights. __ Russia Not a Superpopwer

It’s not that Putin is that good at poker. It’s that he’s playing against complete idiots.

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15 Responses to Grand Triumphalism Against a Darker Background of Decline and Decay

  1. Abelard Lindsey says:

    Yep. Russia’s problems are existential whereas China’s are merely serious. Additionally, Russia has a far higher percentage of its population as Muslims than China does.

    • alfin2101 says:

      True. China may survive as an empire long enough to gobble up some of the imperial remains of Siberian Russia.

      Putin is riding on bluster and intimidation, and when his balloon pops Russia will as well.

  2. Bob Wallace says:

    Whatever science and technology Russia and China have they’ve had to steal from the West.

    • alfin2101 says:

      Yes. Before WWII foreign investment into the USSR from the UK and US were significant. But material, industrial, and technological assistance to the USSR during WWII was massive and never repaid, except with nuclear threats and the sponsorship of global terror and insurrection. Now Russia has become as good at stealing as its larger, more populous, and wealthier predecessor.

      Foreign investment into China — along with voluntary technology transfer — is what brought China into the modern age in the 1980s and 1990s. Now that voluntary investment and transfer are fading, China must resort to theft, espionage, sabotage, bluster, lies, and the other methods of the imperial scoundrel.

  3. Jim says:

    If the map you show is any indication of the future it certainly doesn’t look like a China in decline.

    • alfin2101 says:

      The map of the Mongolian empire at its peak certainly didn’t look like a Mongolian empire in decline either.

    • Jim says:

      Obviously the Mongolian Empire was not in decline prior to reaching it’s peak.

      • alfin2101 says:

        That is not so obvious. The Mongol empire was quite short by historical standards, and suffered simultaneous advances and reverses on different frontiers. Decline and growth can easily be simultaneous as any war leader (or venture capitalist) can tell you.

        • Jim says:

          I think most people in 1280 in Eurasia would have been pretty surprised to have been told that the Mongols were in decline. If the map in you post shows China in decline what would a map showing them on the rise look like?

          • alfin2101 says:

            Jim says:

            I think most people in 1280 in Eurasia would have been pretty surprised to have been told that the Mongols…

            And yet, after 1280:

            1281: The second Mongol invasion of Japan (Battle of Kōan).
            1281: The Second Battle of Homs. Mongol defeated by Egyptian Mamluks.
            1284: Failed second Mongol invasion of Vietnam.
            1287: Pagan Kingdom falls to Mongols of Yuan dynasty who installed a puppet king. Third incursion against Poland.
            1288: Failed third Mongol invasion of Vietnam (Battle of Bạch Đằng (1288)), which made Đại Việt and Champa tributary vassals of the Yuan dynasty.
            1293: Mongol raid on Java.
            1294: Kublai Khan died. His grandson Temür Khan became his successor of the Yuan dynasty.


            The Mongol expansion failed in Japan, Vietnam, Egypt, and was running into a brick wall in Central Europe. The beginning of the end was already clear, and within 70 years the empire was crumbling.

            The problem with maps of empire is that they typically show only one point in time, and conceal far more than they reveal, in terms of underlying dynamics.

            Dictatorial empires such as China and Russia ride herd over all information that comes out of their countries. Death or imprisonment typically comes to those who defy the state’s prohibition on open exchange of information.

            Perhaps that approach — combined with capital flight, loss of foreign investment, a rapid re-arming of nations on the empire’s periphery, etc. etc. — seems like a sign of great strength of empire to some. But if one looks even deeper into the information that can be gleaned by the clear and open minded, other interpretations are easily attained.

  4. Jim says:

    The record of history suggests that “impeial scoundrels” are often quite successful.

    • alfin2101 says:

      For a limited time, that can certainly be the case.

    • Jim says:

      All empires seem to go into decline eventually though they may often last more or less for centuries. One of the earliest major empires that of Sargon of Agade lasted about 180 years, the Sasanian Empire about 400 years, – several centuries seem typical. Is there any evidence of a correlation betwen how long empires last and how morally scrupulous they are?

      • alfin2101 says:

        Is that meant to be a rhetorical question?

        Go back to the context of the “imperial scoundrel” term, which was used in a comment to another reader. It was used to describe a lack of trustworthiness, which is highly significant in today’s world of international investment — although the proximity to flamboyant thoughts about Ghengis Khan may make it difficult to stick to any particular context.

        Consider an “empire” that was built on foreign investment — such as modern China in the 1980s and 1990s. Foreign investment and voluntary technology transfer. Those commitments are based upon trust that the trade partner will not stab you in the back. When trade partners disabuse each other of these trusts, foreign investment and voluntary technology transfer tend to diminish — as we have seen with China recently.

        So, yes, perceived moral scruples can influence trade decisions, which in turn can influence an “empire’s” cash balance. But that is not the dashing and flamboyant taste of empire for which you hungered, perhaps?

        • Jim says:

          Somewhat of a rhetorical question. My reading of history suggests to me that in empire building inspiiring fear is more important than inspiring trust.

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