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Dire warning: Births in China could fall below 10mn annually

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China should quickly abolish the policy to limit two children per family otherwise births in the world’s most populous country could slide below 10 million annually in the next five years, an expert told state media on Monday.

Dong Yuzheng, head of the Guangdong Academy of Population Development, is the latest to sound a warning about China’s falling birth rate following a word of caution on Sunday from Cai Fang, a member of the monetary policy committee of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), the country’s central bank, about the population entering negative growth by 2025.

Only last week, the PBOC had made public a work report by its staffers, which made the radical suggestion that the government allow three or more children per household to compete economically with India and the US in the future.

The report and the experts’ cautionary opinions come ahead of China publishing data from the country-wide census – conducted in late 2020 – which was expected earlier this month but hasn’t been released yet.

Though the 2020 population data hasn’t been released either, the once-a-decade census is likely to reveal a grim demographic picture – a fall in the number of young people, a rapidly ageing population and an antipathy among couples to have more children because of rising living costs.

China’s total population may also fall in a few years, according to Reuters, which quoted Dong from an interview to Yicai, a Chinese financial news outlet.

The number of babies born in China fell by 580,000 to 14.65 million in 2019 and the birth rate of 10.48 per thousand was the lowest since 1949 when present methods of collating data began, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

The two-child policy, which was implemented from 2016 has failed to make an impact on the low birth rates.

Like the two experts’ suggestions, last week’s PBOC report sounded a note of urgency on changing birth policy. “First, we should liberalise and vigorously encourage childbirth. The birth rate depends on the proportion of women of childbearing age and the fertility rate, which is affected by the historical population situation and is difficult to change,” the PBOC report said.

“On the one hand, we should fully liberalise fertility (three and above)…on the other hand, fertility is strongly encouraged. It is necessary to create a favourable environment for childbearing, effectively solve the difficulties women encounter in pregnancy, childbirth, entering nursery and entering school, so that women dare to give birth, can give birth and want to,” the report added.

State media, which almost never criticises government policy, has been making increasingly dire predictions, saying the population may start to shrink in the next few years – a gloomier forecast than that of the United Nations, which foresees a population peak in 2030, then a decline.

In 2016, China set a 2020 target for its fertility rate to be about 1.8 children per woman, up from 1.5-1.6 in 2015, the Reuters report said, adding, “If the rate falls below 1.5, many demographers say China is unlikely to ever get out of its so-called fertility trap.”

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