'All the children you want': China’s anguish over aging population
by Wang Zhicheng

The government is thinking of removing all limits to the number of children per couple: a right that did not exist since the 1970s, when the one child law was applied. The lack of workforce (5 million less in a year) and the growth of the over sixty year olds, which weigh on the state budget for pensions and health care, are of grave concern. For demographers, an ever aging population is incapable of innovation. The fertility rate of Chinese women is the lowest in the world.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - Under the pressure of activists and demographers, with anguish over the growing aging of the population, China is thinking of removing all limits to the number of children a couple can have.

According to Bloomberg rumors of May 21, a State Council research committee is studying the social consequences on the possible end of the birth control policy in the country. This would give couples the right to have all the children they want, a right taken away since the end of the 1970s.

In 1979, with Deng Xiaoping, the one child law was imposed in the country. Applied with radical and ruthless methodology, the law has led to violations of human rights, excessive fines, sterilizations and forced abortions for decades. Because of the preference for male children - especially in the countryside - the law also caused an imbalance in the relationship between males and females, with parents resorting to selective abortions of female fetuses. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there are about 40 million women are missing from the male and female ratio, fuelling the human trafficking of women and wives from North Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia.

The drastic decrease in births has led to an aging population and a reduction in workforce. Because of this in 2013 the government first allowed couples to have two children where at least one of the partners was an only child; then, more than two years later, not registering any significant increase, it allowed all couples to have two children. But not even this produced important results because many couples said they did not want more than one child because they cost a lot of time and money.

In 2017, even with this opening, there were fewer births than the previous year: 17.23 million instead of 17.86 million (in 2016).

Meanwhile, the aging of the population has increased: according to the National Statistics Bureau, in 2017 the population over 65 has reached 158.31 million, or 11.4%. Ten years before it was 7%. For the WHO, a society begins to age precisely when the over-65s exceed 7% of the entire population. At the same time, the workforce - aged between 16 and 59 - has shrunk by more than 5 million, opening a scenario of increases in health and pension costs and the reduction of people who can support economic development as has happened so far.

In the chorus of those who would like the cancellation of all limits in having children, there is the entrepreneur and scholar James Liang. In his latest book, The Demographics of Innovation, he shows that the aging of the population influences the capacity for inventiveness, creativity and economic development. For this reason he pushes China to remove the limits of the number of children per couple and to bear the expenses for each new born with bonuses for families. The risk for Liang is that China will stop. For Liang, the current economic crisis in Japan is due precisely to the demography and the aging of the population.

In 2050, China will have over 480 million over 60s (34.9%). And meanwhile, in 2017 the fertility rate of Chinese women was 1.2: the lowest in the world.

Many people think that even dropping birth limits, there will be no reversal of trends. Chen Jian, formerly head of a commission of the Office for Population Control, says that "removing all limits to births will have little effect on the decline of births in China". Perhaps, he says "it's too late".