New national pension scheme will prevent a crisis, adviser and former minister says. But peasants won't get a penny Despite the difficulties caused by a rapidly ageing population and inadequate pension provision, there is hope for the mainland's growing band of elderly citizens, a top government adviser said yesterday. 'China has already become an ageing society,' said Zheng Silin on the sidelines of the National People's Congress. But the government's new pension scheme - which includes compulsory 'pay-as-you-go' contributions from individual workers and employees, a basic state pension and a 'strategic' public pensions fund - would avert a pensions crisis. Mr Zheng is vice-chairman of the Committee on Population, Resources and Environment of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the mainland's top advisory body. He is also a former minister of labour and social security. At the end of 2005, 144 million citizens were 60 or over, accounting for 11 per cent of the population. The United Nations Population Fund defines a population as 'ageing' when people aged 60 years and over comprise more than 10 per cent of the population. Who will pay for the growing hordes of pensioners, as the size of the working population shrinks and the number they must support rises, is an acute question in the world's first large country to grow old before it is rich. The mainland is forecast to have more than 300 million over-60s by 2030. 'Although ageing populations are a worldwide problem, the problem facing China is more serious,' Mr Zheng said, citing its low per capita wealth, the sheer number of elderly people to be cared for and the funding hole caused by the legacy of a planned economy. The central government believes it has 15 years to solve the problem of an ageing society and put in place a workable national social security system. The new pension system has been successfully trialled in northeast China, which suffered particularly heavily from layoffs at state firms during the late 1990s. 'This programme will be rolled out throughout the country so we have reserves for all old people,' said Mr Zheng. Last year, 46 million city dwellers qualified for the national pension scheme. The changes will be of little comfort to rural residents, who are not yet covered by the social security system and must rely on their families for support. Yang Kuifu , vice-chairman of the CPPCC's population committee, said: 'Traditional family-based old age support is facing challenges. According to surveys, a number of children are indifferent to their parents, and there are even cases of children maltreating parents.' Arguing for a return to the values of filial piety, Mr Yang, formerly vice-president of the China Family Planning Association and a former vice-minister of the State Family Planning Commission, said: 'In the long term, the family will still be the base of old-age support in rural areas. [But] governments at various levels should shoulder their responsibilities and provide old-age support for farmers'. Mr Zheng added his support for the government's policies on family planning, saying the mainland would face 'more urgent, more serious problems' had it not implemented the one-child policy. 'The ageing of China's population is related to its family planning policy. But it is one reason, not the sole reason.'