China’s family planning policy has prevented 400 million births, Chinese officials say.
“Because China has worked hard over the last 30 years, we have 400 million fewer people,” said Zhang Weiqing, minister in charge of the National Population and Family Planning Commission.
“Compared with the world’s other developing countries with large populations, we have realised this transformation half a century ahead of time.”
And it looks likely that, nearly 30 years after the policy was first introduced, it will not be relaxed to allow couples to have more children. Many Chinese and foreign academics believe this is a mistake and will result in a number of serious demographic problems in the future.
The fall in fertility rates is also, at least partly, due to improving social and economic circumstances. In other East Asian countries, such as Thailand and South Korea, modernisation has led to women having fewer children, and yet these countries do not have strict family planning policies.
But Professor Wang does admit that China’s family planning policies since 1979 have helped reduce the fertility rate further and contributed to a change in attitudes. “A lot of people simply don’t want that many children. People have accepted the policy,” he says.
Chinese officials say the current fertility rate is between 1.7 and 1.8 births per woman, well below the 2.1 births needed to keep the population at a stable level. Overseas experts dispute this figure; they say the fertility rate is even lower and stands at 1.5.
This will result in an increasing proportion of older people, a smaller workforce to look after them and a disproportionate number of boys to girls. There are other problems too. China might have restricted its population growth, but this has not always helped solve wider problems, as was envisaged when the policy was first introduced in 1979.
Reducing the number of people, for example, does not automatically help the environment, as China has found. Prof Wang says the policy needs to be relaxed if China is to solve some of these problems.