The contours of the history of the twenty-first century will be largely decided by the tussle between the USA and China. The familiar situation of an established global hegemon being challenged by a rising power is being played out before our eyes.
Whether or not China is able to establish at least regional domination will depend in a large part upon the winner of the technological race: which nation will be able to harness the latest technological breakthroughs to its military, political and economic ends will be in a much stronger position than its rival. And, without being too deterministic, the technological race largely depends upon the winner of the demographic one.
According to this article in the South China Morning Post, while China has an undeniable lead in population at the moment, the USA has long-term demographic advantages which will really start to be seen in the middle of this century. The reason for China’s ability to outpace the USA in the next couple of decades is its current dwarfing of the USA’s population. With 1.4 billion people, China has over four times as many people as the USA.
Why does population matter in the technological race? Simply because the more people you have, the more research scientists and engineers you have who can develop the technologies needed to overtake your competitor. The share of GDP devoted to research in China has grown exponentially over the past 30 years and it has already overtaken the USA in terms of the absolute number of researchers.
The other benefit which a large population gives a nation is that it supplies a large domestic market which provides tech companies domestic innovation opportunities and diverse application scenarios. While the retail market in the USA is still larger than that of China, the e-commerce market in China has been larger than that of the USA since 2013.
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