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A public policy blog from AEI
After nearly four decades of ruthless one-child restrictions, China’s fertility control policy is coming to an end. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) allowed most Chinese couples to have two children starting in 2016, but after a small rise in fertility rates that year, China’s birth totals slumped again in 2017.
After decades of blind faith in its draconian one child policy, the CCP is waking up to the problems of low fertility. China’s population is greying rapidly, reducing the size of the PRC labor force. But whether the CCP will be successful in raising fertility rates is another question all together. Because, needless to say, Beijing is going about its newfound reproductive zeal with its signature Orwellian style.
Here’s the problem: While Chinese couples who want more children may feel liberated, others see risks. First, the CCP insists that childbearing is a “state affair,” and that people should have children for the sake of the nation. Currently, the government is testing the waters by fielding a range of policy proposals to encourage childbearing and gauging the reaction.
On August 14, the official newspaper of Jiangsu Province’s Party Committee advocated for the establishment of a compulsory “birth fund” that would only subsidize Chinese families with at least two children. The proposal sparked fierce criticism, with complaints of the already high costs of raising children and the potential for human rights violations. While the CCP eventually dismissed the proposal, this likely isn’t the last over-the-top fertility policy we’ll see.
Second, there’s a catch: The CCP doesn’t want everyone to have more children. Some provinces have adopted more lenient policies than others, especially in China’s northeast, where fertility rates and economic growth lag. On the other hand, the CCP may tighten the screws in Xinjiang, where the majority Muslim Uyghurs live. Historically, the CCP allowed Uyghurs to have more children, but now it holds that ethnic minorities are tipping the “balance of population development” because they have higher fertility rates than the majority Han Chinese ethnic group. Dropping fertility control measures for Han Chinese while holding on to restrictions for other ethnic groups may compound already tense inter-ethnic relations.
In short, China’s war on fertility is far from over. State-sponsored financial incentives to boost fertility can be costly and increasing fertility rates is notoriously difficult. It’s easier to force people not to have children. And much harder, as our European friends are now finding, to persuade them that children, and more of them, are the hope of the future. Will state coercion make China an exception? The brilliant minds behind the “birth fund” proposal ominously suggested that former family planning officials could still be “re-mobilized” to forcefully “sway public opinion.” One shudders to think exactly what that means in a place like the People’s Republic of China.
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