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Timothy Beardson discusses the challenges facing China today

Timothy Beardson, September 2013On September 18, Timothy Beardson visited The Institute of World Politics to give a lecture on his new book, Stumbling Giant: The Threats to China’s FutureThe book describes the various challenges that China faces today, including political, economic, social, and environmental factors.   

Mr. Beardson, who lived and worked in Asia for the last 35 years, focused some of the demographic issues in China, including the massive gender disparity.  He noted that for the next two decades, there will be 50 million men in China with no wife, which may lead to social instability.  

In addition, he observed that by the 2020s, India will have overtaken China as the most populous country, which will impact economics of the region.  Mr. Beardson explained that there has never been a country with a steady fall in population decade after decade that has been able to to sustain high economic growth rates.  China’s birthrate is around 1.7, lower than the replacement rate of 2.1.

Stumbling Giant: The Threats to China's FutureAnother challenge for China that Mr. Beardson addressed in his lecture is the lack of innovation in that nation.  He noted that this problem is not an ethnic one – Chinese do well in Silicon Valley.  State targets for innovation have not been met, and Mr. Beardson said that Chinese officials should devote more funds towards innovation.

He noted that the issue of innovation may not be helped by the culture of deference that exists in China – for instance, the oldest scientist in the room would often be considered to be the best scientist in the room.  

Mr. Beardson mentioned that the Chinese education system also needs improvement.  The schools often rely heavily on encouraging rote learning rather than the development of critical thinking skills.  Although the number of university graduates in China has greatly increased since the 1990s, many graduates have no job at graduation.  Mr. Beardson said that China builds a new university every three days, but the country has no university in the list of top 100 universities in the world. 

In his book Stumbling Giant, Mr. Beardson discusses these and other issues facing China today.