China risks getting old
before it gets rich
Wed, Apr 27 2011
By Sui-Lee Wee
BEIJING (Reuters) - The harsh logic of China's one-child policy is starting to unravel, and census data to be released on Thursday may well stoke debate whether the aging nation should relax restrictions.
Demographers worry that without change, China will become the first country in the world to age before it gets rich.
Once seen as key to averting a Malthusian disaster of over-population, China's choke on family size to usually one child in cities and two in the countryside now threatens its economic future, many demographers say, with fewer people left to pay and care for an increasingly grey population.
They say maintaining that policy is a mistake with profound implications for the world's second-largest economy.
"China is on a downhill demographic vehicle in terms of low fertility and rapid aging," said Wang Feng, director of the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy, who specializes in China's demographics.
"By continuing the one-child policy, the effect is to step on the gas pedal. It's a vehicle that's going downhill and you're making it go faster. That makes no sense."
Chinese demographers, and even members of the Communist Party-run parliament, have called for looser restrictions. Those wanting change may seize on the data, when China reveals the main findings of its 2010 census, the last since 2000.
Still, experts say the government will be reluctant to abolish the policy, as anxious as ever about feeding its people who account for around one-fifth of the world's population.
President Hu Jintao said on Wednesday that China would continue to "uphold and perfect reproductive policies (to) earnestly stabilize a low birth rate", Xinhua news agency reported, implying no great changes to the one-child ethos.
Proponents argue that smaller families -- using less resources and with more to spend on the children they do have...