This demographic factor is reinforced by the weakness of China’s social safety net: People can’t count on the government to support them in their later years or to pay for health care, so they feel the need to accumulate assets as a precaution.
Chinese policymakers know all this, but somehow haven’t been able to deal with these underlying issues. Instead, they’ve kept the rate of investment very high despite slowing growth — mainly by encouraging huge spending on housing construction. A 2020 paper by Kenneth Rogoff and Yuanchen Yang shows that Chinese investment in real estate now greatly exceeds U.S. levels at the height of the 2000s housing bubble, both in dollar terms and as a share of G.D.P.:
China does, however, have an autocratic government — the kind of government that in other times and places has tended to respond to internal problems by looking for an external enemy. And China is also a superpower. It’s not hard to tell scary stories about where all this might lead."