China to introduce new policies to tackle ageing population

State media says China will offer extensive financial and policy support to encourage couples to have more children.

An ethnic Yi woman holds 'anti-lost' straps tied on children's wrists as they walk past shops in Ganluo county of Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, China, on September 10, 2020 [File: Tingshu Wang/ Reuters]

China is planning to include new measures to encourage more births and address issues associated with its rapidly ageing population and shrinking workforce as part of its new 2021-2025 “five-year plan”, according to state media.

Citing experts, the official China Daily newspaper said on Monday that the Chinese government will offer extensive financial and policy support to encourage couples to have more children.

“More inclusive population policies will be introduced to improve fertility, the quality of the workforce and the structure of the population,” Yuan Xin, vice-president of the China Population Association, told the newspaper.

The measures include introducing more affordable nursery services as well as relaxing the limits on the number of children Chinese couples are allowed to have.

China introduced its controversial “one-child policy” in 1978, saying efforts to reduce poverty and develop the economy were being undermined by rapid population growth, especially in the countryside.

But the world’s most populous nation decided in 2016 to relax restrictions and allow couples to have a second child in a bid to address the rapid increase in the elderly, as well as a dwindling workforce.

Some experts say it should now scrap all limits entirely.

“More research and discussion is needed as to when the policy can be further relaxed, and to what extent it will be relaxed – whether all couples will be allowed to have three children, or whether the family planning policy will be entirely abolished,” said Lu Jiehua, a population studies professor at Peking University.

In China, the number of citizens aged 60 or over stood at 254 million at the end of last year, accounting for 18.1 percent of the population. The number is expected to rise to 300 million by 2025 and 400 million by 2035, putting huge pressure on the country’s health and social care system, demographers say.

Meanwhile, based on the current trends, they say the number of people of working age could decline by 200 million by 2050.

Despite the relaxation of the one-child policy in 2016, the number of live births per 1,000 people fell to a record low of 10.48 last year, down from 10.94 in 2018.

Policies aimed at suppressing population growth must be replaced by a system designed to boost fertility, the official Legal Daily said, citing government experts.

“To proactively tackle the ageing population, urgent measures are required to reform our country’s family planning policies and liberate fertility,” said Zheng Bingwen, an expert with the China Academy of Social Science.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies