Friday, June 5, 2009

China, India, Brides, and War

Kenneth Anderson wrote an interesting post on Volokh Conspiracy about Surplus Males in China and Libertarian thoughts. The comments were very interesting as well and covered most of the common angles.

One of the commenters brought up the burgeoning mail-order bride industry in China, specifically touring Cambodia and other Southeast Asia countries. His remarks got me thinking about the geopolitical implications of this development.

As many of you know, Southeast Asia has a complex attitude toward China. Vietnam, for example, drove out many ethnic Chinese as “boat people” in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Indonesia and Malaysia periodically have anti-Chinese riots. Vietnam and the Phillipines have claims against China on the Spratly Islands. Yet Indonesia is cooperating with China in the defense industry, and Burma is using China to balance against Thailand and India.

As China and India both have a surplus male population (explored in Bare Branches), both are experiencing social stress as men compete for mates. Entrepreneurs are pushing the mail-order bride industry in both countries, with a large target demographic.

I believe that bride importing countries generally provoke resentment among the bride exporting populations, due to increased competition for mates in the exporting populations. I don’t have evidence to back up this claim.

However, this sentiment can easily become coupled to local nativist sentiments in the Southeast Asian states. Thailand and Myanmar have cross-border insurgencies and drug trade problems. Vietnam has disputed territories with Laos and Cambodia. Indonesia has ethnic separatist movements. The region has suffered economically over the past 20 years, from competition with the Chinese and Indian export economies and from the currency crises. These are all factors that can lead to war.

China and India both possess nuclear weapons and thus are unlikely to directly confront each other. However, the Southeast Asian states have many flash points and have been balancing against each other. If a crisis were to erupt, demagogues will drag anti-Chinese and anti-Indian sentiments to the surface. India and China will get dragged into such a crisis because of the complex bilateral defense relationships in the region, and because of domestic responses to the nativist sentiment in the crisis countries. The conflict can quickly widen across the penninsulas. Such a conflict will be difficult to resolve, because the belligerents can easily claim seemingly legitimate causii belli in this environment.

Therefore, the bare branches in China and India may indirectly destabilize Southeast Asia. We need to recognize this and increase our crisis response capability in the region.

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