Many intellectuals like to speculate that China will eventually surpass the United States, perhaps before the end of this century. This argument has almost become conventional wisdom – although twenty years ago they were saying the same thing about Japan (that did not happen).
Nevertheless, it does appear that China will someday become a relatively wealthy country, like its neighbors Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. It will be, in other words, a First-World country – a place that draws individuals from around the world, a place which people dream of living in.
It will be the destination of large immigrant multitudes, ambitious persons yearning for a better life. Then China will be faced with a problem.
These immigrants will look different from most Chinese. They will speak a different language. They will most likely be poor and unaccustomed to the country’s culture. They will present both a challenge and a great opportunity, as immigrants always do.
This is not entirely certain. Japan, after all, constitutes a First-World country which has remarkably few immigrants. But unlike China, Japan is surrounded by ocean all around. China does not have that shield.
In 3,000 years of history China has never dealt with a massive immigrant influx. Its government has no record of handling immigrants. The government does, however, have a consistent record of dealing with people akin to those above: ethnic minorities.
If one were to grade China’s government on its handling of minorities, it probably deserves a D- (F is reserved for genocide). The government’s dealings with minorities have proved a consistent failure, as the riots in Xinjiang this year and Tibet last year attest. China’s government is far better at getting Han Chinese righteously angry than addressing minority grievances.
When China becomes rich and the immigrant floods come pouring in – immigrants who do not even look Asian, let alone Chinese – the challenge will be multiple times harder than Tibet or Xinjiang. Perhaps in several decades a democratic China will be better equipped to handle the challenge. But as of now, the outlook is pessimistic.