Is there a crisis brewing in the world's most populated country?
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China confirmed its population grew to 1.412 billion in 2020, from 1.4 billion a year earlier, according to the results of its once-in-a-decade census. But the number of new births fell for the fourth consecutive year in 2020, adding to concerns about China’s ageing population, with the demographic data set to have far-reaching social policy and economic implications.
Economic issues will feature prominently in China’s nationwide fact-finding campaign, including challenges to domestic demand, tech self-reliance, support for private and foreign investors, housing and jobs.
A city in China’s Shandong province is offering free high school for the third child in a family, as authorities across the country roll out a variety of incentives for couples to have babies amid a record-low birth rate.
Much has been made lately of the fall in China’s population, but the real concern is its dwindling workforce, which peaked about a decade ago. Still, in that time China’s economy has continued to grow, putting it alongside places facing similar demographic challenges like Japan and Europe.
Chinese policymakers must somehow implement policies to revive interest in marriage and reduce the cost of raising children without crashing the economy. But even if they increase the number of births, they will almost certainly be unable to reverse demographic trends that have taken hold across the globe.
A rule change in one Chinese province to allow unmarried women to have children gives them greater choice in principle, but not in practice. It does nothing to address the more fundamental economic and social factors preventing people from having children.
Assisted fertility services, along with labour analgesia to reduce pain during childbirth, will gradually be covered by Chinese state insurance in all provinces as the country looks to boost its dwindling birth rate.
There are insecurities from limited social welfare, hard decisions for rural migrants about where to raise a family, and the stress of competition and social pressure. In the long term, China needs a more even regional development so it can build public trust and a greater sense of security.
The population of China’s Jiangxi province rose by some 100,000 last year, with around 90 per cent of growth coming from interprovincial migration, with demographers saying the free flow of workers is essential to the health of regional economies.
Current measures like the three-child policy per couple are not enough to increase the country’s flagging fertility rate.
China faces many challenges from trade wars to local government debt but now is a chance for national rejuvenation. At the crux is the creation of well-paying, secure jobs and the restoration of business confidence
Growing concerns about the market’s slump have made Times of Negative Property Value, a book on the collapse of Japanese housing prices, a must-read for many Chinese during the Lunar New Year holiday.
The outpouring of concern is simplistic and wrong-headed in many ways: a shrinking population is good for the planet, the fall is merely a rounding error and government efforts to address issues are well under way.
Official recognition that China’s population has started to decline is a watershed moment in Chinese history, and will overturn many basic assumptions when analysing the country’s future.
The pandemic is a reminder that a society where pensioners make up a large part of the population will always be vulnerable to public health challenges.
Good governance, education, infrastructure and more are needed to integrate a growing working-age population productively into the economy. Asia must also capitalise on its close integration in regional supply chains and free-trade agreements.
After four decades of birth control, China has finally woken up and realised that it may have gone too far in implementing the one -child policy, but Beijing’s U-turn in population policy has come too late.
Education may be holding India back from emulating China’s economic trajectory, with India producing far fewer skilled workers than China. Yet while India can learn from China’s success in education, China still has strides to make in critical thinking and allowing a diversity of ideas.
State Council proposals to reverse a declining population through a series of incentives are only the beginning and require the support of all.
Demography is not destiny, so it’s meaningless to use population decline as a predictor of China’s future unless you can link it to productivity, which depends greatly on technological progress, something that is inherently impossible to forecast.
Continued implementation of quarantines and other strict coronavirus control measures has cast a shadow over how well China’s population can cope in the future.