SINGAPORE — Chinese authorities are making plans to further ease restrictions on births and transition to policies that explicitly encourage childbirth, people familiar with the matter say, reflecting heightened urgency in Beijing as economic growth slows and that the composition of the Chinese population is aging.
Policymakers are discussing the possibility of removing birth restrictions entirely by 2025, the end of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s current five-year economic plan, one of the people said. According to this person, China will likely start by removing birth restrictions in provinces with the lowest birth rates before adopting nationwide changes.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping told senior party officials last month that he viewed China’s aging population as a threat to national security, calling on senior officials to rise to the challenge, the state news agency said. Xinhua.
Any easing of restrictions would likely be seen first in economically depressed northeast China, an area that the country’s health officials say could take the lead to remove any remaining birth restrictions.
China’s three northeastern provinces, considered its rust belt, helped start China’s industrialization in the 1950s, but were hit hard by the country’s transition to a market economy in the 1990s and now have some of the lowest birth rates in the country. New census figures show that the population of the northeastern provinces has fallen 1.2% over the past decade.
Some local governments in the region have taken the initiative to adopt more aggressive policies aimed at increasing fertility rates. Heilongjiang province, which borders Russia’s far east, said couples in 18 of its cities could have a third child in 2016, five years before the same policy was introduced nationwide.
In neighboring Jilin province, government researchers argued in a February report that the province should make plans to end all birth limits as soon as possible.
“Ending birth restrictions is not enough to reverse the trend of negative population growth in our province,” read the report, which was released by the Jilin Research and Development Center. “It is also necessary to introduce policies to encourage births based on real conditions. “
Demographic and economic experts say aggressive measures are needed to slow the decline in births in China. The country’s population is expected to grow from the current 1.41 billion to around 730 million people by the end of this century, according to projections by an international team of scientists published last year in the British medical journal The Lancet.
While some experts say a smaller population would not be unwelcome, the population structure – without enough working-age people to support the growing ranks of retirees – could weigh on China’s economy for decades, warn. -they.
Beijing has been reluctant to abandon birth control altogether. One of those familiar with the matter said leaders feared that a total relaxation of birth restrictions could encourage poorer families in rural areas to have many more children and thus exacerbate economic conditions in some areas. country that the government had recently lifted out of extreme poverty.
Chinese cabinet officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The National Health Commission, which oversees demographic issues, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Restrictions on births have been a key policy for China since 1980, when leaders came to view the country’s large and rapidly growing population as an obstacle to building a strong economy. Many families were forced to pay fines for having more than one child, while others were subjected to sterilizations and forced abortions.
As the policy took hold, it began to instill in a generation of expectant parents a mindset that made them less willing to bear and raise children, experts say. This helped push China’s birth rate to its lowest level in decades.
As the ramifications of birth restrictions became clear, the Communist Party gradually relaxed its birth restrictions. In 2013, he said couples where at least one partner was an only child could have two children without penalty.
He abandoned the one-child policy altogether in 2016, resulting in a one-year increase in births. Demographers are pessimistic that last month’s easing of rules to allow three children will result in lasting change.
Some experts, including a political adviser to the Chinese government, have called on Beijing to completely eliminate birth restrictions as soon as possible. The adviser expressed disappointment at Beijing’s decision to take the plunge last month by allowing a third child. “What’s the point of waiting a few more years to abolish all controls?” the person said, dismissing the three-child policy as a joke.
For other academics, the situation is too dire – and the moral implications too grave – for the government to continue trying to impose population controls on its people.
“The government must recognize reproductive rights as the fundamental right of its people. With birth control, no matter how many children people may have, the Chinese still don’t have the right to make decisions about reproduction, ”said Mu Guangzong, professor at the Research Institute. on the population of Peking University in Beijing.
—Liyan Qi in New York contributed to this article.
Write to Keith Zhai à [email protected]
Copyright © 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8