The Korea Herald


[Robert J. Fouser] Korea and the world in 2100

By Robert J. Fouser

Published : Sept. 12, 2017 - 17:35

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The internet and social media make it hard to escape the news. News junkies are addicted to breaking stories and jump at the chance to post and tweet. Others scroll through the drone of the news in search of more interesting things. The only way to escape, it seems, is to turn off and hide.

Fall is a busy season in Korea. The opening of the school term is followed by Chuseok, which soon leads to fall and the end of the year. This year will soon give way to 2018. Most of the children born in Korea over the next few years will live to see the turn of the 22nd century.

The furious flow of news makes it hard to think about the future: 2100 is only 83 years from now, while 1934 was 83 years ago. No one in 1934 could have predicted the internet or smartphones, but many trends emerged to create the world today. Similarly, a look at trends in the world in 2017 reveals what the world of 2100 might look like.

China and India are the most populous nations, but India’s population is growing faster. According to the UN’s projections, India will surpass China by around 2022, and the gap will grow greatly in the last half of the century as China’s population ages. By 2100, India will have about 1.5 billion people, and China will drop to about 1 billion.

By some estimates, China has already surpassed the US in gross domestic product and the gap will continue to grow over the next several decades. A Westpac bank study on the world economy in 2100 predicts that India’s economy will grow rapidly and that it will surpass the US in the 2030s and China in the 2060s. By 2100, India will be the biggest country in the world in population and economy.

Africa will experience the greatest population growth. By around 2050, Nigeria will surpass the US to become the third most populous nation in the world. By 2100, Nigeria will have 800 million people; its capital region of Lagos could reach an astounding 88 million. Of the 10 most populous nations in 2100, five will be in Africa.

Like China, an aging population in Japan will reduce its population from 125 million now to about 85 million. The Tokyo area, the world’s most populous urban area, will fall from 37 million today to 25 million. Japan’s economy, too, will shrink in comparison, falling from third largest today to eighth or ninth. With their large populations, Indonesia and the Philippines will both have larger economies than Japan.

Advances in artificial intelligence, meanwhile, will lead to the automation of many jobs currently done by humans. Advances in alternative energy will make fossil fuels obsolete and geoengineering will help mitigate the impact of climate change.

What does this mean for Korea? By 2100, South Korea’s population will decline to 38 million from 51 million today. North Korea’s population will decline from 25 to 23 million. A united Korea in 2100 would have about 60 million people, but nobody knows when and how unification will occur.

Changes in population and economic power will leave three powerful nations: India, China, and the US. Together, these countries will account for half of the world economy and will dominate geopolitical arrangements. Europe, Korea and Japan will form a group of advanced economies with aging populations. Their prosperity will depend most on their ability to provide advanced technology to developing countries that need it.

To position itself for the world of 2100, Korea needs to focus on two things: unification and maintaining its technological edge. Unification would eliminate the threat of war and the “Korea discount” that comes with it. The process, which can take place only after the collapse of North Korea, will involve some short-term turmoil, but the benefits, especially for the North Korean people, far outweigh the short-term dislocation.

Korea today is a major player in many of the technologies that will define the 21st century. Areas of the world with growing populations and economies will continue to need technological products from advanced producers like Korea. To maintain its edge, Korea will need to continue to invest heavily in technology and to develop strong relations with emerging export markets.

The world has faced serious challenges in the opening years of the 21st century, but expanding economic growth and developing technological advances bode well for the rest of the century. Korea appears especially well placed to take advantage of these trends.

By Robert J. Fouser

Robert J. Fouser, a former associate professor of Korean language education at Seoul National University, writes on Korea from Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He can be reached at -- Ed.