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Xi faces challenge of shrinking Chinese population as he goes for the third term

President Xi Jinping faces the real threat of a shrinking Chinese population as he gears up to accept a third term of power and steer his country’s future in the coming decade. China's population has slowed significantly and may start shrinking ahead of 2025, the state backed Global Times reported a couple of months ago, citing a senior health official. In several provinces, the number of new births in 2021 was the lowest in decades in several provinces. The number of births in central Hunan province fell below 500,000 for the first time in nearly 60 years, the Global Times said. Only China's southern Guangdong province has had more than 1 million new births, it said.

16.10.2022 21:00
Piše: Valerio Fabbri
Ključne besede:   China   Xi Jinping   population   demographics   Yang Wenzhuang   National Health Commission   Yuan Xin   Wang Feng   Jane Golley

China is desperately fighting to reverse a rapid shrinkage in natural population growth as many young people prefer not to have children or go in for one child because of economic factors.

In several provinces in China, the number of new births in 2021 was the lowest in decades in several provinces. The number of births in central Hunan province fell below 500,000 for the first time in nearly 60 years, the Global Times said. Only China's southern Guangdong province has had more than 1 million new births, it said.

 

China is desperately fighting to reverse a rapid shrinkage in natural population growth as many young people prefer not to have children or go in for one child because of economic factors including high cost of living and raising children and work pressure. China's population is expected to start to shrink in 2021-2025, the Global Times published frequently this year, citing Yang Wenzhuang, head of population and family affairs at the National Health Commission. Babies born in Henan, the country's third-most-populous province, fell by 9,5 per cent in the first six months of 2022 compared to last year, according to calculations made by the South China Morning Post using publicly available data on screening rates for birth defects.

 

By law, Chinese babies undergo physical examinations within 1-3 days of birth. Henan has not yet released the total number of newborns this year. At the end of last year, some 267 million Chinese were aged 60 and above, accounting for 18,9 per cent of the total population. In 2024, more than one fifth of the population will be aged 60 and older, according to Yuan Xin, vice-president of the China Population Association and a professor of demography at Nankai University in Tianjin. In the coming decade, more than 20 million people will retire each year on average, according to Banyuetan, a Communist Party publication under the official Xinhua News Agency.

 

 

The shrinking population has spread fears in the Chinese administration of weakening the government’s economic tools which in turn could impact manufacturing – China’s main economic weapon spearheading its economic supremacy in the last couple of decades.

 

 

As Xi Jinping prepares for the reelection on the 20th Party Congress, demographers are once again predicting that the shrinking may actually begin in 2022 itself, a turning point that will have profound ramifications for its future. Financial Times quoted Wang Feng, an expert on Chinese demographic change at the University of California, Irvine, as saying:

 

"That China’s population decline has coincided with the start of Xi’s third term is symbolically and practically significant."

 

 

The newspaper analyses the gravity of the situation for the Chinese President:

 

"The rapid ageing of China’s population — a process that will accelerate during Xi’s third term — will further chip away at Beijing’s powers to stimulate growth and manage economic crises. Over the next five years, the first cohort of people who became parents during the 'one-child policy' era that began in 1980 will increasingly advance from their 60s and 70s — or what sociologists describe as being 'young-old' — into their 80s."

 

 

It is learnt that local governments are already "struggling to meet the rising cost of health and social care". Their spending on China’s sprawling zero-Covid infrastructure has ballooned, while tax receipts from the battered property sector have plummeted. This can have a negative impact on China’s pension payments.  However, Financial Times also gives the counter-point, quoting Jane Golley, a China economist at the Australian National University, said a shrinking number of working-age people was a natural consequence of the country’s economic development. "A smaller workforce means reduced labour supply, which means workers can demand higher wages", Golley said. 

  

China’s birth rate has been in decline for many years. Between the start of Xi’s rule in 2012 and 2021, the number of babies born each year fell by more than 45 per cent, to 10,6 million. Apart from relaxing rules for having children, China also tried to tighten abortion rules for non-medical purposes. The FT report says:

 

"But Beijing’s measures to stimulate fertility have had little impact, particularly in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and a strict zero-Covid policy that has disincentivised the young from getting married and having babies. Yi Fuxian, an obstetrics expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a long-term critic of the one-child policy, said rising unemployment and fear of persistent lockdowns have prompted young couples to delay marriage and childbearing. He estimated this would reduce the number of births in China by 1mn in both 2021 and 2022."

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