China's latest census showed the population is aging rapidly, raising questions about the one-child policy. The population growth rate declined sharply and is aging quickly, prompting warnings of a looming demographic crunch and raising new concerns about the government's unwillingness to abandon its one-child policy.W
When the Chinese government launched the world's biggest demographic experiment in 1980, it said it would take about 30 years to tame the explosive population growth once encouraged by Chairman Mao Zedong. But now, China appears to have achieved that goal.
Initial census results released show that China's population, the world's largest, rose to 1.34 billion as of last year, from 1.27 billion in 2000. That put its average annual growth at 0.57 per cent over the decade, down from 1.07 per cent in 1990-2000.
The census, conducted last year, also showed that people over the age of 60 now account for 13.3 per cent of China's population, compared to 10.3 per cent in 2000. Meanwhile, the reserve of future workers dwindled. People under 14 now make up 16.6 per cent of the population, down from 23 per cent 10 years ago.
Yet China's leaders vowed again this week to maintain the one-child family-planning policy despite the census results and a decade-long campaign by an informal advocacy group of top Chinese academics and former officials who risked their careers to argue that the policy was based on flawed science and vested bureaucratic interests.
According to several people close to the Family Planning Commission, the agency is believed to be considering limited pilot plans to relax the policy. But the informal advocacy group pressing for change claimed that those measures are too little, and too late, to address a demographic crunch that will fundamentally reshape China's economy and society.
They said China's elderly population is expanding rapidly as Mao-era baby boomers retire, putting new burdens on society to cover the cost of their retirement.
At the same time, China's labour force is due to start shrinking in 2016, reversing the demographic phenomenon of a widening pool of low-cost labour that powered a manufacturing boom over the past three decades.
The commission is now considering pilot programs in five or six provinces allowing couples in which one partner is an only child to have a second baby, according to people familiar with the discussions.
But members of the advocacy group said it would take at least two years to see the results of those pilots, which would then have to be tested nationally, meaning that a nationwide two-child policy is unlikely before 2015.
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