PETER SEIDLITZ, Hongkong-based correspondent of the German business and financial daily Handelsblatt, talks to Peng Peiyun, who as the only woman state councillor is China's highest ranked female official in the government, about the stunning results of the nation's birth control policy. A graduate of the elite Qingdao University, Ms Peng, who is 63, is married to the Vice-Chairman of the National People's Congress, Wang Hanbin, who was promoted to an alternate member of the Politburo last October. Ms Peng, as an advocate of the one-child policy, how many children do you have yourself? I have four children and three grand-children. I had the children before we started the policy. You have been described by the South China Morning Post in Hongkong as a tough conservative ideologue and an ally of premier Li Peng. For someone who suffered and was mistreated during the Cultural Revolution I think it is quite unfair to describe me like that. Do I look to you like a conservative ideologue? Do you consideryourself in Mr Li's camp? The premier feels as I do - he is for reform as well. Critics are saying the recent stunning success of China's population policy was reached through compulsory sterilisation and other forced measures. On average, each Chinese woman would have five to six births in the 1950s, and now she will have two births. In other words, another 200 million or more would have been added to the Chinese population had the family planning not been enforced. The approach of the Chinese people towards marriage and birth has shifted from ''more births'' to ''late marriage and fewer and better births''. Family planning has been extended across the country since the '70s. Rural families were persuaded to have one more birth at a longer interval. Family planning in national minority regions is, generally, not so strictly enforced. Implementation mainly takes the form of information and education to make them knowledgeable about contraception, birth control and eugenics. Contraceptives are distributed free. Thanks to more than 20 years of effort, China's birth rate has been reduced and its excessively high population growth brought under control. The birth rate was drastically reduced from 33.43 in 1,000 people in 1970 to 19.68 in 1,000 in 1991, and furtherdown to 18.24 in 1,000 in 1992. But you are blamed by population organisations for a hard and inhuman crackdown to reach that goal. Emphasis is laid on the combination of state guidance with people's willingness. The control effort has been accepted by the people though persuasion and education. For example, in order to have a woman agree to birth control, persuasion may have to be applied many times. Some foreign people regard it as an act of forcing her to do something. We in China consider it to be persuasion and reasoning until she agrees. It may take quite some persuasion work on a farmer before she can accept an idea. Some cadres seem to be excessively brutal in forcing women to co-operate. Of course, in a country as big as China, there may be some cadres whose work is not entirely satisfactory. These cadres are dealt with through education in good style of work. The state will assume full responsibility for any failure in a birth control operation on a woman. Generally speaking, birth control operations are safe in China. China had problems with the [former president Ronald] Reagan administration as the United States had cut financing of the United Population Fund because of concerns its work was intertwined with a coercive Chinese family programme. Do you think China's family planning is a concern for the whole world or are you saying to the Americans: Mind your business. UNFPA [The United Nations Fund for Population Activities] accounts for only one per cent of the birth control expenditure in China, which mainly relies on itself. Nevertheless, China is ready to co-operate with the fund. Will the stunning decline in the birth rate mean China's population growth will not be as dramatic as predicted? It is our hope to keep the population under 1.3 by the year 2,000. By the middle of the next century, China's population will reach its peak level of 1.5 to 1.6 billion at which it will stay put. The population increased by more than 13 million in China last year. It is hoped the population growth rate will be below one per cent. Abortion - yes or no; that is a hot political issue in the US and Europe. Now it is being said Chinese doctors are not only doing abortions but also help induce labour and endangering the lives of many women. We are not in favour, either, of induced labour when pregnancy is in its last trimester, as it entails unsafe factors. The purpose of persuasion is to avoid pregnancy and, when contraception fails, resort to abortion during the first trimester. The government very much likes to have fewer induced during the last trimester of pregnancy. A sample survey done last year shows 83.4 per cent of married women have adopted contraceptive measures, which is a guarantee for family planning. The sex ratio between boys and girls born seems to be out of balance in China. One report says 113 boys are being born for every 100 girls. Great efforts have been made to popularise the idea that boys and girls are the same. The notion that only boys can carry on a family name is criticised. The ultrasonic scanner is now widely used in China to identify the sex of a foetus. We are banning these scanners from hospitals and want strict control on its use for sex identification. We adopted the Law of Safeguarding Woman's rights and Interests last year. It is designed to protect women and children, ban the abandonment of babies, and maltreatment of women given birth to girls. Any violation, once discovered, will be handled. The cases of infanticide are highly isolated and rarely discovered. China will have to define the family unit anew now that those growing up don't have sisters and brothers. One child for one couple is common mainly in cities but not necessarily so in rural areas. The single child poses a challenge with its education. They need not be spoiled. My grandchildren are single children and are sent to live with groups in kindergarten where they can be exposed to collectivism rather than the permissive and excessive love found with their parents. You are the only female state councillor and there are only three women ministers in a cabinet of 41 ministers. Women deputies account for 21.03 per cent of the current National Peoples' Congress. There are over 10 million women cadres. There are two vice-chairwomen of the NPC, one vice-chairwoman of the Chinese people's Political Consultative Conference, one female state councillor, three female ministers, 15 female vice-ministers and over 2,509 female mayors and deputy majors. That is not an impressive statistic. Some male comrades still hold an erroneous idea their wives are obliged to serve them and their children well. This may well have been caused by the fact China is still a developing country with some remnant feudal notions at work. In China, education as a whole is not of a high level. Women make up 70 per cent of the illiterate and semi-illiterate cross-section, while 15.8 per cent of the total population is illiterate. It becomes apparent then that prolonged efforts are required to truly realise sexual equality in all its aspects. I myself have no problems and have not come across discrimination when you advocate the four-selves: self-respect, self-confidence, self-reliance and self-development. But values are changing in China and families are breaking up. China is in the process of transformation. Nevertheless, being a socialist country, China places a heavy emphasis on cultural civilisation and, at the same time, has many good traditions and virtues. In general, Chinese families are stable - in spite of an increase in divorce rate over recent years. You once were proud to say in China prostitution has been eradicated. But you see girls selling themselves in many hotels again. As to prostitution, it iscondemned by public opinion, controlled by the government, and banned by law. These women, once caught, will be subjected to education and reformation.