Moscow and Beijing struggle with falling birth rates
by Vladimir Rozanskij

Russia and China launch plans to help families to reverse the demographic trend. The war in Ukraine has exacerbated the problem of depopulation and aging in Russia. Chinese subsidies considered insufficient by experts. The Kremlin running out of funds.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - While statistics indicate that India is close to becoming the most populous country in the world, China and Russia are trying to boost the domestic birth rate. Immediately after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, the population increase calculated thanks to the three million inhabitants of the peninsula had led to the reduction of subsidies for "maternal capital", but in reality the program was never really reduced. The year of war, even with the fictitious annexation of four other Ukrainian regions, only exacerbated the problem of depopulation and aging in Russia.

A plan to support the birth rate is also being rolled out in China. Unlike Russia, where subsidies are mostly intended to encourage births of the first child, in China the sums are also increased for the second and subsequent children.

In Shenzhen (Guandong), one of the great Chinese cities with a population exceeding 17 million, local authorities are trying to expand support measures for families with children. The local health commission proposes that family subsidies can accumulate up to 19,000 yuan (just under 3,000 dollars) over three years.

Pregnancy and childbirth allowances of 3,000 yuan will be granted to families where their first child is born, provided they register their residence in the city. These families will be able to obtain 1,500 yuan of child care aid for three years.

Similar measures are being studied in several Chinese cities, after reports that in 2022 China lost 850,000 people. Above all, the number of women of reproductive age, between 15 and 49 years of age, decreased by more than 4 million in the last year. Women in general are fewer than men, 690 million against 722.

This is the result of more than 40 years of the "one child" policy, introduced in 1979, which applied to the whole country, with some exceptions for some regions and groups ethnic groups, greatly reducing the working-age population.

In 2015 alone, the Beijing government allowed the second child, which led to a record growth in the following year, when nearly 18 million babies were born. However, the growth was not confirmed in the following years, so as to allow even the third child in 2021. Policies in favor of the birth rate do not arouse great enthusiasm, also looking at similar practices in Western countries; Subsidies and extended holidays are not enough, say experts, such as Professor Sun Tsjuanchen of the Shandong School of Social Development.

The independent Russian demographer Aleksej Rakša, former collaborator of the Rosstat statistical institute, considers the Chinese subsidies insufficient: "Shenzhen can be compared to Moscow, and in comparison, Chinese families receive much less than Russian ones".

Not to mention that in most other cities in China the measures have not yet been activated. Russia's "maternal capital" has undergone various changes in recent times, and in 2023 the figures will reach 589,000 rubles (just under ,000) for the first child, and 779,000 for the second, but only for families who have no received support for the firstborn.

Even in Russia, however, more effective ways are being sought to stimulate the birth rate, modulated on the basis of the different conditions and location of families, as Finance Minister Anton Siluanov maintains. We need more expenditure and more articulated budget funds, difficult measures to plan in times of war and mobilization, which certainly do not contribute to population growth and family wellfare.