It is the most comprehensive reform package since Deng Xiaoping opened up the Chinese economy to the world through “socialism with Chinese characteristics” (state capitalism) in 1978. Deng, nicknamed “the great architect,” is also responsible for the one-child policy.
Louis T. March is an analyst for MercatorNet, the giant initiative aimed at improving the birth rate in China. 17 government departments jointly released a detailed plan to boost fertility in China.
The Population Is Shrinking
The 2021 census alarmed the upper echelons of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). China is experiencing an acute shortage of births. The population is decreasing by millions of people every year. Young couples do not have enough money to support children. Marriages are declining. A sense of unease has set in, accompanied by the worship of wealth.
“According to a February study by the Beijing-based YuWa Population Research Institute, China is, behind South Korea, the country with the lowest birth rate in the world. According to YuWa researchers, women are preoccupied with rising education costs, long working hours and low wages.”
Since the publication of the last census, provincial and municipal governments have adopted measures to encourage the formation of families. There is minimal evidence of success in some small towns and rural areas. But this scattered approach has not made a significant difference: China registers more deaths than births each year.
The powers that be have therefore decided to implement a national family policy. The Chinese daily Global Times was one of the first to report the news: “17 Chinese government departments issue guidelines to boost population growth amid falling birth rate.”
This is an extraordinary feat of bureaucratic cooperation: getting 17 government departments to jointly issue comprehensive guidelines to (1) promote fertility, and (2) support procreation by a social, financial and cultural plan.
The guidelines are broad. They call for a holistic approach to marriage and childbearing support, asking local governments to “implement active fertility support measures” that include:
– Subsidize and promote prenatal and postnatal care.
– Reactivate the nursing system.
– Increase maternity leave.
– Make flexible working hours and working from home compulsory.
– Direct financial support for education costs.
– Preferential housing purchase schemes for families with several children, including larger apartments.
– Rental assistance from the Compulsory Provident Fund (similar to social security) for families with several children.
– Tax breaks for families with children under three years of age, in addition to existing tax incentives for school-aged children.
Increasing fertility is now an urgent national priority.
Here is how the Global Times summarizes the situation: “Tuesday's directive was issued to implement policies to help every couple have a third child, to push the government, institutions and individuals to assume their responsibilities in creating an environment conducive to marriage and fertility, and promoting population growth, according to the directive.”
It is essential to “create a favorable environment” for families
Hao Fuqing of the National Development and Reform Commission believes that insufficient childcare facilities are a major obstacle: “In cities, about one-third of families need childcare, but the supply is not really sufficient and there is a shortage of public childcare services.”
Also, China has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. There were 17.7 million abortions between 2015 and 2019; this represents 78% of unwanted pregnancies terminated. Abortion was widespread during China's draconian one-child policy. Under the new guidelines, abortion is strongly “not recommended.”
Ma Li, a former fellow at the China Population and Development Research Center, said allowing families to have three children was just the start. He says China needs a family-friendly culture. Ma Li further says that culture is key to addressing China's birth shortage.
To this end, it encourages the creation of a large number of nursery schools and kindergartens; to make having children less of a barrier to a woman's career; the increase of family allowances and the adjustment of family support payments according to the number of children (the cost of living varies considerably across China).
Chinese Scholars Speak Out
Professor Liang Jianzhang, from Peking University, recommends paying one million yuan (150,000 euros) for each newborn baby. According to Professor Liang, to raise the country's fertility rate from 1.3 (the official rate) to 2.1, China would have to spend 10% of its GDP. Ten percent of GDP is a small price to pay for the survival of the nation.
China's population is aging rapidly. The average family size is 2.62 and declining. It is time for the national government to fight firmly and fully for the family. It's only just begun.