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What would happen over one month, territorially, if everyone inside the borders of China just magically disappeared?

Just humans, by the way.

It's inexplicable. In one planck-second, they just become piles of clothes. All flesh is replaced by air.

Like, who would take over the area, and have sufficient political/military power to control whatever area they grab?

'China' is the PRC, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Just to clarify and confirm assumptions, Taiwan is undisappeared.

Also includes the oceans under Chinese control, and population of all Chinese vessels in disputed, possibly Chinese, territory like the South China Sea.

Only affects people in the China Zone. No external Chinese citizens or anything are disappeared.

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    $\begingroup$ What made them disappear? Is the thing that made them disappear still operating? Would a country want to send millions of people into a place where some totally non-understood disaster is happening? Is there reason to think people in other parts of the world might similarly disappear, or to be sure that they would not? $\endgroup$ – Jay Jun 12 '16 at 6:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Brythan - There? $\endgroup$ – Malady Jun 12 '16 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ I recommend replacing "in the borders" with "inside the borders". Took me a while to figure out what you were asking. Like, just the people along the border...? $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races with Monica Jun 12 '16 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ @LightnessRacesinOrbit - Done. $\endgroup$ – Malady Jun 12 '16 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ Hello Malandy, Although you've already received quite a few decent answers, I think your question is incredibly broad, and our of scope for this site. The reason is that there are so many aspects of what would happen from a political, military, social, even religious point of view that we could fill an entire novel with our answers. Read up on WB's Risk Factors for more details. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jun 12 '16 at 13:50
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Well, the first result would be the filing of the largest missing-persons report in history.

The People of the U.K. and the U.S.A. would be treated to three weeks of nonstop information-free breaking news coverage consisting of ever more bizarre ways to say "Everyone within the borders of China just disappeared." The fraction of Americans who can find China on a world map would rise from 13% to nearly 20%.

No one knows what would transpire after such a mysterious and tragic event. Here are my guesses:

Once the shock had worn off, those adjacent nations with the proper temperament and means -- mostly Russia and Japan -- would march into the newly abandoned China and claim as much territory as they could.

This would be followed within weeks by a mixture, among the other bordering and nearby nations, of protests against such unjustified land grabs, and belated unjustified land grabs.

India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and South Korea seem the most likely to join in the rush for territory. They would take what they could and hope that the big guys didn't fight them for it.

Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam seem, historically, less expansionist than other Asian nations. They would be less able and less willing to appear dangerously greedy, and so would make the most noise about "deliberation" and "equitable distribution".

North Korea would demand all of China for itself and would be the only nation to actually commit acts of war to drive the other nations out. This would result in the end of North Korea as a nation.

The U.S.A. would not want one square inch of the empty territory for itself, but would somehow expect to dictate and control who did end up with it.

After ten weeks of deliberation, the U.N. Security Council would pass a resolution recognizing that the population of China had gone missing.

Within ten years the event would be accepted as just another historical fact, and the world would return to business as usual.

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    $\begingroup$ I would imagine some of the millions of Overseas Chinese to lay claim to the country as well. $\endgroup$ – Michael Schumacher Jun 12 '16 at 6:55
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    $\begingroup$ +1 just for the "The fraction of Americans who can find China on a world map would rise from 13% to nearly 20%." $\endgroup$ – ypercubeᵀᴹ Jun 12 '16 at 11:23
  • $\begingroup$ This could make for an interesting novel, perhaps. $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races with Monica Jun 12 '16 at 13:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael Schumacher: Yes. I suppose the land would legally belong to any citizens of The People's Republic of China who had not disappeared with their comrades. I just don't think they would have a chinaman's chance of hanging on to it. $\endgroup$ – A. I. Breveleri Jun 13 '16 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer... but I do have one question. If nobody knows why the entire population of China disappeared, would you volunteer to go live there? What if the whatever-it-was happens again? $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Jun 9 '17 at 15:25
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If all the people just disappear in a blink there would be a lot of chain reactions going on in different speeds.

Spinning out of control One of the first things that will happen is that everything in active operation at the moment would spin out of control. Cars, planes, boats, equipment in everything from private homes to factories, power plants and military facilities.

This might be highly noticeable at the border crossings where cars going in china will crash into the multitude of driverless cars swerving off in different directions, at the same time as driverless cars will be buzzing out of china at the checkpoint. Border guards will suddenly find that the border guards on the other side have vanished and call inn for emergency services.

Planes going out of china will crash unless autopilot can be activated remotely. This also affects planes that were crossing over chinese territory when it happened. This might be the first emergency that is broadly networked as it would affect families around the globe and be a massive threat to public safety in the surrounding areas. Some planes might be able to stay on their path until fuel runs out and it is possible that they might end up being shot down by military forces as a safety measure.

Chinese military This leads to another chain reaction, the one happening in chinese military based, training or traveling outside china at the time. They have just lost contact with their homeland and they are being bombarded with questions from the military in other countries. They will spark into action quickly and try to return home by any means possible. They might be highly paranoid about other countries and try to keep foreign countries from interfering until they have gained control over what is happening. Planes or boats that were patrolling the borders might be the first responders.

As the severity of the situation dawns on the chinese military they will likely abandon all foreign operations ranging from peacekeeping operations in africa and the middle east, and quite possibly their operations in Tibet. They might also start a massive draft of any adult chinese nationals living outside of china and call on them to form emergency forces. Things will be happening quickly now and the threat of foreign forces is only one of the many challenges chinese military will be facing.

Nuclear plants One of the most pressing emergencies to be put under control is the operation of chinese nuclear plants. Chinese military will be bombarded by demands from the surrounding countries on this matter and they will be under pressure from especially, Japan, US, Russia, India and south Korea to accept foreign aid on this matter. The ability of the remaining chinese military forces to take proper control of the situation will be under scrutiny. But they are likely to act as if any offer to help is a veiled attempt to gain control. Especially while foreign forces are shooting down chinese planes that are still in the air.

Nuclear weapons In order to secure control of their territories chinese military will also race to gain control over their nuclear weapons and make sure the world knows that they are more than willing to use them. They have just lost friends, family and the bulk of the nationals they are sworn to protect. Depending on the actions of foreign forces they might feel threatened enough to demonstrate their willingness to use nuclear force by doing a test bombing in their own oceans.

On the outside various political, defence and trade organs will be buzzing with conversations and arguments on how the world should deal with the ongoing situation. Chinese representatives will be struggling to keep up negotiations while dealing with demands from their own paranoid military. In the UN security council especially the conversation of foreign aid will be continuous and increasingly pressing. It is also likely that an emergency council of the world's most powerful countries will form to deal with the discussion of whether interventions should happen by force. India, Japan, US and Russia will be paranoid of each other fearing the consequences of one country gaining too much power over the geographical area.

Government It is quite likely that some representatives of the chinese government were traveling while the disappearing happened. They will also act quickly to appear in control over the situation, but they are more likely to remain where they are than to return to China. They might set up an interim Congress and elect interim leaders as soon as possible. Pressure to deal with foreign relations in the first weeks will take most of their effort and attention. Any internal affairs will likely be left to the military forces.

Financial collapse While this is happening another chain reaction is wrecking havoc all over the world and that is the financial collapse. Stock Markets are crashing and multinational companies reliant on china will be thrown into a state of emergency and chaos. This will strike companies dealing with electronics the hardest, but a multitude of other sectors will be crippled by loosing china in the blink of an eye. In tandem with the actual emergency of losing crucial supplies, companies will also lose people's confidence and that will be the most important short term drive for the stock markets crashing.

Due to the growing severity of the economic crisis most countries will be too busy coping with their own problems to seriously consider putting an effort in to gain control over Chinese territory. If any military effort is being put forth at this point it is more likely to be threats against yet other countries interfering.

Fires and rotting animals During the first few days or even weeks only the most important infrastructure will be saved. Even with chinese forces and drafted nationals migrating back into the country there is no way of gaining any real control over the situation. Fires that have started in major cities will likely be allowed to rage out of control as long as they don’t threaten any nuclear facility or important infrastructure for troop movement. Any domesticated animals that are not able to escape will slowly start starving to death and rotting in their homes, farms, zoos and industrial facilities. This might actually create some international uproar of its own and activist groups dealing with everything from environmentalism to animal rights will be lobbying for intervention. Some of these might even try to sneak into the country illegally to help. And considering the strain on the chinese military they might be allowed to do so as long as they are don’t broadcast their presence.

Negotiations When the first set of crisis have been dealt with some things might start to calm down and foreign relations might begin to normalise. The interim government will still be using the threat of nuclear force to keep control over their territories, but it is quite likely that they will start to accept foreign aid and support in various ways. Negotiations will aim to keep the best possible balance between intervention from US, Russia, India and Japan and agreements not to claim any territories will be signed.

Mass repatriation After the initial first responders of nationals drafted into the chinese military to gain control over the most important infrastructure other chinese nationals will begin returning en masse. Some to look for relatives, some to gain control of their businesses, some to claim control over vacant businesses, some to enlist in the work to start cleaning up the mess. There are over 50 million chinese living outside of China today.

Mass immigration Once the infrastructure is in place and chinese military feels like they can handle it China will call for work immigration to fill important roles in agriculture and manufacture.

Long term It is difficult to say how things might pan out in the long run. Even if China does gain control over their nuclear weapons they will struggle for years to regain any real power in the international scene. At the same time, many other powerful countries will be crippled in their own ways from the Chinese population disappearing. Many of them and maybe the US especially will be dealing with a financial collapse. In the long term this might strengthen the global positions of Russia and India. This might actually affect relations in the middle east more than it would threaten chinese territories. Little will be gained from openly trying to colonize China. But long term immigration will change the makeup of what we think of as China today. China owes its long term internal stability to a relatively homogenous cultural identity. If immigration changed this we might in time see a break up of China into smaller states.

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Taiwan

Taiwan is a strange case. As you're probably aware PRC claims Taiwan is part of its historic territory. This is true. The reason they don't control it is that Taiwan is actually the Republic of China, the old nationalist government that lost the communist revolution but they're still hanging on in Taiwan. This is why their status at international level is so complex.

Should the communist government (and population) suddenly disappear then technically the government in Taiwan gets to step in and take control of the territory.

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The People's Republic of China includes mainland China, Macau and Hong Kong. The last two are Special Administrative Regions of the PRC. According to the PRC, it also includes Taiwan.

On the other hand, Taiwan is occupied by the Republic of China, which claims all territories of the PRC.

They both recognize themselves as the only legitimate governments of all China (mainland, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan and surrounding islands). So obviously, the ROC would make a claim.

They wouldn't be the only ones to make a claim by the way. There are a lot of natural resources and technology (including WMDs) to loot.

You might think the ROC has a stronger claim than other countries, however Taiwan isn't a member state of the UNSC, and that's a big deal.


A bit of history: after WWII, the United Nations was created, with a United Nations Security Council. 5 states were chosen as permanent members of the UNSC. These states hold the power of veto, which means they can say no to pretty much any decision of the UNSC unilaterally. That is a lot of power.

The winners of WWII were the USA, the UK, France, the USSR and the Republic of China. Logically, they were the first Permanent 5. When USSR fell, the spot was transferred to the Russian Federation, considered as the rightful successor state to the USSR.

Before that, in the 70s, the ROC spot was transferred to the PRC. The PRC became the legitimate representative of China, and the ROC was expelled from the UNSC. The Republic of China is currently unrecognized by the UNSC, and will never be as long as the PRC has the right to veto.


It's possible that Taiwan would become recognized again, but the Chinese spot as permanent member would likely either remain empty or be given to another country. Taiwan would have to beat Germany, India, Brazil and Japan who already want a spot. They have more political, military, cultural and diplomatic power, which makes all of them better candidates than Taiwan.

To answer the question, the situation after one month would be unresolved. It could take year before the UNSC figures out how to reform. Then it would take even more time to decide what to do with China. A lot of countries would be interest in that territory, if even one of them has veto power (like Russia for instance), it's very possible the situation would never get resolved.

Trying to get control by force would be illegal and either fail or start something nobody wants. Nations with claims over the territory would likely do everything they can to preserve the status quo rather than having another nation than them taking control. That could be an interesting scenario for a WWIII though.

Anyways, I can see a few ways this ends.

Option 1: all the countries with claims find an agreement, said agreement is approved by the UNSC, and China is split in many parts going to all interested parties. Obviously, that will take some time.

Option 2: individual people migrate to China and form a new independent country, or several of them. The situation would eventually resolve itself, but that would also take a long time

Option 3: no resolution. China permanently becomes an international zone under UN mandate. Since nobody can agree, nobody gets it.

Option 4: World War III. Everybody tries to rush in illegally. Since they'll inevitably run into each other, things will escalate. With Russia, India and Pakistan having nuclear power, it could go south very quickly.

Option 2+3: A new country is formed under UN administration. People are allowed to immigrate. Once there's enough people to make a country and a government, the UN mandate ends and we have one or several new countries.

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  • $\begingroup$ Option 5: Their is disaster and panic. China is turned into a wasteland by unsafe industrial facilities and no one enters for fear of disappearing. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Jun 12 '16 at 16:34
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The premise of your question is rather weird, but this is the right site for weird settings ...

  • For the first weeks, people would be seriously worried about what made the Chinese disappear, and many would be afraid to go in. Even if your story has a relatively benign explanation (all voluntarily emigrated to another planet, ...) it might not be believed.
  • Expect a mass exodus from the areas bordering China. Breakdown of public order, deserted cities, long refugee columns to destabilize the region.
  • Scientific expeditions would go in.
  • Possibly there will be an organized attempt to secure the Chinese nuclear weapons, nuclear power plants, and critical infrastructure. The US, Japan, and South Korea might take the lead. Russia would join in an uncoordinated way to underline her superpower status and independence.

Simultaneously, there would be a period of diplomatic/public land claims with little action on the ground, both because there are no available forces and because nobody knows if they would vanish.

  • Nations with historical border conflicts (Korea, Vietnam, India, Russia) might stake a claim to their "historical" lands.
  • The Spratleys might see the first battles for the spoils.
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There would first be widespread panic and hysteria. Markets would collapse, whole economies would start to turn belly up and there would be financial freezes implemented on short order, runs on banks would start and likely be halted within 24 hours, then everything would probably just stop. The world would hold its breath so to speak. In the first month there would likely be little interest in mainland China pending a world wide effort to investigate. There would likely be some rogue activity to command territories, but the remaining forces of the world would likely very quickly squash any such efforts.

Consider that if the population of China simply vanished, everyone who goes there shortly after would not be on home court, which tends to level the playing field in terms of battle tactics. Military power and technical prowess would likely prevail in such a situation. I doubt that any one power would assume control, but rather government forces would move in and assist in trying to understanding what had happened. When enough gathered information made it possible to better organize and assess what to do next, then commissions would appoint oversight and things would progress from there.

With such an overwhelming event occurring I would assume that grabbing territory would be the least of concerns for the remaining powers who have the capacity to try to mitigate the impending collapse of society.

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If you take your premise as a given without question, I presume the simple answer is that politically and militarily powerful countries would grab chunks of territory, especially those adjacent to the place formerly known as China. That would mostly mean Russia and India. Japan is probably too pacifist these days to make a serious effort. North Korea would try but if it came to confrontation with Russia would be unlikely to win. Hard to imagine any non-contiguous country making a serious effort, no one who has the resources to pull it off has an obvious cultural tie or the political will for that sort of thing. That is, the US and Europe probably wouldn't have the will. If a smaller, poorer country like Syria or Zimbabwe wanted to, they just wouldn't have the means.

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