Loosen China’s One-Child Policy?

The NPC (National People’s Congress) & CPPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference) Sessions 2010 going on in Beijing from March 5th to 14th, during which various state-level decisions will be made, brought the country’s population policy into public discussions once again. Zhang Yin, a CPPCC delegate, proposed that, in 3 to 5 years, the government should allow couples to have two children. Similarly, Wang Jianxin, professor of demography at Peking University, argued that the government should ensure a healthy workforce by avoiding negative population growth: “…To strike a balance, the government needs to ensure that people maintain a stable birthrate in order to have a healthy population of youths, and thus workforce…The truth is, the birthrate today is much lower than that needed to maintain the existing population. This could lead to unexpected consequences. For example, a sharp decline in the workforce would be a setback for sustainable economic development.”

Reform of the policy is increasingly demanded by the general public these days. The policy eased the fear of the economic burden of overpopulation when marketization began in the late 80s and gained support among sections of the public for the past decades. However, it creates more problems than it addresses nowadays as the socio-economic landscape had shifted. In a poll by China Daily, the official English-language newspaper, over 70% of the participants were pro-reform. In an earlier interview, Zhao Baige, Deputy Minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, who has talked critically about the policy on various occasions, announced that studies were underway to look into possible changes to the policy.

What interests me the most is that these debates, both public and official, are centered on economic concerns, with limited voices from the perspective of human rights. The most active pro-reform local governments had been Shanghai and Beijing, where incentives had been introduced last year to boost population growth by targeting young couples who are reluctant to have babies. Predictably, the aging workforce is the catalyst. It seems that state-level reform is possible in recent years, yet the actual details are hard to predict. However it’s almost certain that the reform will be discussed in economic terms much more than in rights terms. The reason for such a phenomenon is worth further research.

-Yi Xie

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