Mention of China's controversial family planning policy was conspicuously absent from National Day celebrations in Beijing on Tuesday, sending a clear signal that the country’s decades-long policy of birth restrictions could be scrapped altogether, analysts said. China abandoned its one-child policy in 2016 to allow couples to have two children as its birth rate slows and population ages, although it has so far proved unsuccessful in boosting births. Analysts said the lack of slogans or delegates related to the policy was a signal China could be about to lift restrictions entirely in a bid to encourage births. “Family planning was an achievement for the People’s Republic at its 60th anniversary, there was an awkward silence at the 70th anniversary,” said Yi Fuxian, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a long-standing critic of China’s birth restrictions. Previous National Day parades have featured slogans extolling the virtues of the policy and featured representatives tasked with implementing the programme. The policy’s absence from festivities marks a major change from only six years ago, when China’s then family planning agency spokesman bragged to state media that the policy had reduced China’s population by “more than 400 million” and “has greatly reduced pressure on resources and the environment from excessive population growth”. China, the world’s most populous country, had a population of nearly 1.4 billion people as the end of 2018. But it is greying at an alarming pace thanks to Beijing’s rigid birth control programme, which was enforced through a system of hefty fines and forced abortions. “China’s fertility rate is already very low, and the population size will start to shrink very soon. It’s ridiculous to restrict births in China,” said d emographic researcher Huang Wenzheng, from the Beijing-based Centre for China and Globalisation think tank. Richard Koo, the chief economist for investment bank Nomura, wrote in a note last month that China’s entire population will start to decline in 2032. Rapid ageing, the middle income trap and a prolonged trade war with the United States could translate into a “triple threat” for China’s long-term economic growth, Koo wrote. New births in China dropped to 15 million in 2018, the lowest number since the days of the Great Famine in the early 1960s, while the number of Chinese above the age of 60 reached 249.5 million, or 18 per cent of the total population. China’s labour force, defined as those aged between 15 and 59, has declined by 40 million over the last seven years, painting a gloomy demographic picture that adds pressure on Beijing to abandon birth restrictions and encourage births. “The absence of family planning references in the National Day parade is a strong signal that family planning has done more harm than good to this country, and has never been a so-called great accomplishment,” said Mu Guangzong, a professor from the Institute of Population Research at Peking University. Attempts to boost China’s birth rate have faltered so far. Mu said it was hard to increase birth rates because of the high costs associated with raising children, a trend that was “difficult to reverse”. China has not published any timetable for lifting its birth control policy, which is often viewed as the biggest demographic experiment in human history. But local Chinese governments have started to encourage residents to have a second child. For example, the government of Yichang in Hubei province, near China’s Three Gorges project, issued a public notice in September 2016, rallying Communist Party members to have a second baby. It warned the lack of new births posed an economic threat to the local economy. New births in Yichang rose to 37,600 in 2017 from 31,300 in 2016, but then quickly dropped back to 31,900 in 2018. Last month, the city announced it would lift all restrictions for domestic migrants to attract an inflow of new workers, joining an increasingly fierce competition among China’s smaller cities for people.