(TibetanReview.net, Jan18’23) – China is ageing rapidly before it could become sufficiently rich to be able to provide for its growing non-working population, throwing a severe challenge to the legitimacy of the communist party of China whose decades-long draconian one-child policy has turned out to be too successful for its own good. Over the past several years, Beijing has been urging its youths to marry and have more children, but without success. And now, for the first time in 60 years, the population has actually started shrinking.
The birth rate fell to a record low of 6.77 births for every 1,000 people in 2022, down from 7.52 in 2021, marking the lowest rate since records began in 1949.
And the national death rate was 7.37 per thousand last year, the highest since 1976, putting the national growth rate at negative 0.6 per thousand people, reported the scmp.com and other major global news outlets Jan 17, citing China’s National Bureau of Statistics.
The Bureau has said China’s population had declined by roughly 850,000 to 1.41175 billion at the end of 2022.
Long-term, UN experts see China’s population shrinking by 109 million by 2050, more than triple the decline of their previous forecast in 2019, noted Reuters.
The report cited domestic demographers as lamenting that China will get old before it gets rich, slowing the economy as revenues drop and government debt increases due to soaring health and welfare costs.
Much of the demographic downturn is the result of China’s one-child policy imposed in 1979 and enforced with ruthless efficiency till 2015, as well as sky-high education costs that have put many Chinese off having more than one child or even having any at all, the report said.
Population growth had been slowing since 2016, when the policy was scrapped. And seven years after that, the country has entered what one official described as an “era of negative population growth”, noted the bbc.com.
While the contracting population is not immediately detrimental, the long-term implications are grave.
China has “plenty of manpower” and “a lot of lead time” to manage the demographic challenge, Paul Cheung, Singapore’s former chief statistician, has said. “It is a signal that the government of China needs to address the issue. They need to raise productivity, put in a lot more modern infrastructure and deal with healthcare. But they are not in a doomsday scenario right away.”
China’s population has begun to decline 9-10 years earlier than Chinese officials predicted and the United Nation projected, npr.org cited Yi Fuxian, a demographer and expert on Chinese population trends at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as saying.
What this means is that China’s “real demographic crisis is beyond imagination and that all of China’s past economic, social, defense, and foreign policies were based on faulty demographic data,” Yi has told the AP.
China now has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, comparable only to Taiwan and South Korea, he has added.
China’s looming economic crisis will be worse than Japan’s, where years of low growth have been blamed in part on a shrinking population, Yi has said.
Whether or not the government can provide widespread access to elder care, medical services and a stable stream of income later in life will affect a long-held assumption that the Communist Party can provide a better life for its people, said the nytimes.com.
The last time China is believed to have recorded a population decline was during the Great Leap Forward launched at the end of the 1950s, under then-leader Mao Zedong’s disastrous drive for collective farming and industrialization that produced a massive famine, killing tens of millions of people, noted the npr.org.