05/11/2021, 13.18
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With only 12 million newborns in 2020, China’s economic future is at risk

China’s population now exceeds 1.4 billion, but the growth rate has dropped for the 4th consecutive year. The number of people of working age also decreased, by 6.79 per cent since 2010. The new data represent a social problem for the Chinese Communist Party. Li Keqiang says that economic recovery is still “shaky”.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – China had 12 million newborns in 2020, bringing the total population to 1.41 billion. This is down from 14.65 million in 2019, the fourth annual decline in a row.

The data released today by China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) differ from those anticipated by  the Financial Times, according to which China’s population fell below 1.4 billion last year, the first decline in 60 years.

The publication of the population data was long overdue. Chinese authorities had denied the figures provided by the British newspaper. However, they had also drawn criticism by not releasing final census results, fearful, according to experts, of their effect on public opinion.

Many observers are not buying the government’s data. It is well known that local governments often inflate population numbers to obtain more resources.

Regional statistics had already shown falling births and the country’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, had recommended that the government abandon its population control policy. Without such action, the country could lose its economic edge over the United States, it claimed.

Since 2010, the population grew by 5.4 per cent, up from 1.34 billion. The annual increase over the past 10 years has averaged 0.53 per cent, down from 0.57 per cent in 2000-2010, and the lowest in any decade since the first census in 1953. Beijing now has 21 million inhabitants, but saw a 24.3 per cent drop in births between 2019 and 2020.

NBS commissioner Ning Jizhe highlighted the structural problems arising from the new demographic picture. The most worrying trend is the drop in the population of working age, down by 6.79 per cent compared to 2010.

This is a nightmare for the Chinese Communist Party, which bases its legitimacy on economic growth and the promise of prosperity for the Chinese.

At 375.82 million, the population of those living in places other than their household registration area has increased by 69.73 per cent over the past decade.

However, fewer of them are migrant workers, down by more than five million in 2020, an effect of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the aging of the population. This is the first drop since 2008, the NBS reports.

An estimated 285.6 million people moved from the countryside to the cities seeking work last year.

Cited by the South China Morning Post, demographer He Yafu says that China's population will begin to shrink next year, when the number of new births will likely fall below 10 million whilst the number of deaths will surpass that level.

If He's numbers are correct, China's economic recovery is at risk. In a public address on 26 April, Prime Minister Li Keqiang warned that the foundations of the country’s economic recovery are still “shaky.”

Li pointed out that the country could fail to meet its annual employment target at a time when private small- and medium-sized enterprises are already struggling with rising costs and government red tape and low efficiency continue to be major issues.

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