China’s population to drop below 1.4 billion for the first time since Mao's 'Great Leap Forward'

The Financial Times publishes data from China’s census, which Chinese authorities have not yet released fearing public reaction. Demographic decline will have a strong socio-economic impact. Critics slam the government for its slow termination of the one-child policy.


Beijing (AsiaNews) – China's population has dropped below 1.4 billion, the first decline in 60 years, this according to the Financial Times citing official census data it received.

The government has not yet released the data for fear of its effects on public opinion, some experts say.

The last time the country experienced demographic decline dates back to 1960-61 during the Great Leap Forward, when the population officially shrunk by 13.4 million during Mao Zedong's disastrous economic policy. But the loss might have been even greater.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics was supposed to publish the latest census in early April, but delayed the release, ostensibly to improve the document, sparking a backlash on social media.

For some analysts, the authorities’ hesitancy is a sign that the top inner circle has not yet settled on a common line to handle sensitive data and present solutions to reverse the negative trend.

Demographic decline will have a strong economic and social impact on China. An ageing population means higher retirement costs, and probably slower economic growth because of the loss of millions of people of working age.

As many observers point out, China has been facing this demographic challenge for some time.  The authorities are afraid to release the new data because they know that many in the country are prepared to criticise them for the slow termination of the one-child policy.

The lack of government transparency and ineffective data collection also explain the slow pace in changing demographic policy. Local authorities are known to often inflate population data to get more resources.

China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), recently recommended the government end its restrictive population policies; if things stay the same, the country will lose its economic edge over the United States.

The PBOC essentially confirms the failure of the one-child policy. Its easing in 2016, with the possibility of two children per couple, did not change the situation.

To contain pension costs, Prime Minister Li Keqiang announced in March, at the annual session of the National People's Congress, that the  government planned to gradually raise the retirement age.

Compared to the world's largest economies, where people retire around 65, the threshold in China is much lower, between 50 and 60.

However, with an economy slowing down, such a decision would negatively affect young people, especially new graduates, as they enter the labour market. And this would be another potential social bomb.

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