an introduction

Michael Schumann, a writer specializing in Asian affairs, prepared a report published by the American "Atlantic" magazine, in which he talks about the failure of the Chinese genius, which the world sets an example, to protect Chinese society from aging.

The writer highlights the policies that China is currently trying to save what can be saved and raise the number of births after years of marked decline.

translation text

“They are good at the long-breathing game,” this is the compliment that is usually directed to Chinese leaders, as it is commonly believed that they are masters of strategic thinking. The upcoming elections or the quarterly earnings report, the Chinese could not beat them.

But there is also an ambiguity regarding the impending demographic disaster in China, where the country is aging rapidly, threatening its economic progress.

This problem is not new, as experts have been sounding the alarm for years, and you might think that the most powerful decision makers in China will deal with this challenge in the same way that they built high-speed trains or defeated the repeated outbreaks of “Covid-19”, and with the same determination and weight. However, for the first time, this is not what is happening, as the Chinese Communist Party seems unable to respond to the fast aging train heading towards it.

In its latest attempt to tackle the problem, China announced in May that the limit on the number of children per couple would be raised from two to three.

The decision did not receive much enthusiasm from analysts, who expected it not to have a significant impact, as "Mei Fong", author of "One Child: The Story of the Most Radical Chinese Experience", says that "demographics is one aspect of social policies that Chinese leaders are still dealing with." With ideas from the oldest possible."

The Chinese government's failed population policy is no exception to its vast sea of ​​success. It tells us the way the Communist Party rules, exposes weaknesses that contrast with China's always displayed strategic genius, and even threatens Beijing's rise to the top of the world's great powers.

Like any political institution, the CCP can be exhausted by short-term priorities and caught up in bureaucratic complications, leading to decisions that put immediate interests ahead of long-term gains.

The Chinese government has been known for the efficiency and foresight of its experts in managing the Chinese economy.

Given the Chinese leadership's five-year plans, imbued with the pursuit of dizzying goals and grandiose ambitions, China's leaders may appear to be always one step ahead of the rest of the world.

This may result in gains on the ground by motivating the rest to catch up with China, just as President Joe Biden has just done by starting to try to catch up with China in the field of electric vehicles, an industry essential for the future that China has been supporting with its insight for years.

Of course, the Communist Party takes great pride in itself, as the party recently opened, before the celebration of the centenary of its founding, a torrent of propaganda promoting its achievements and merits.

But China could easily get lost, too.

Chinese leaders may not face elections, but they need something to legitimize their regime in the public eye, especially at a time of increasing regime repression.

Their attempts to assert their right to rule, to please the people, or to maintain social stability may hinder their long-term plans.

short-sighted policies

For example, economists have long warned of China's heavy reliance on investments in infrastructure, apartment complexes, and factories in its pursuit of sustainable growth.

Debt and the resulting wasted money damaged the progress of the economy, but the Communist Party was slow in its moves to fix the issue;

Driven by an obsession with achieving high growth goals.

In other areas, political leaders were unable to deviate from established practices, despite their clear appearance as outdated practices.

For example, decision makers still maintain the family registration system, called hyoko, that connects people to their hometowns to complete the most basic services, even though the system impedes services to the mobile workforce across the country and hinders the economic performance of the entire population.

The current Chinese administration is less able than its predecessors to devise innovative or rational policies. Party Chairman Xi Jinping has centralized power to a degree not seen since the era of Mao Zedong, and major decisions cannot be taken without his personal consideration.

"The Chinese state's super-precision technocratic engines are now being eroded," said Lee Karl Minzner, a specialist on Chinese governance at Fordham University Law School in the US.

The population problem is perhaps the most catastrophic example of political paralysis in China.

The results of the latest population census, issued last May, reveal the gravity of the situation, as it was found that population growth during the past decade was the slowest ever, while the population of those in the sixty or over sixty recorded a rise that reached about one-fifth of the population.

It is unlikely that conditions will improve given these findings.

Estimates may vary, but they all point to one troubling conclusion: We are in the process of being an old nation.

Moreover, the age bracket for those 65 or older is likely to double in the next two decades as the workforce shrinks, making China an “ultra-aging society.”

A Chinese government commission has estimated that the elderly will make up a third of the Chinese population by 2050.

It may be perplexing to us that the world's most populous country (1.4 billion people) needs more people.

However, an aging society is characterized by an increase in the number of older people who are less productive, who are more dependent on health care and pension systems, and who at the same time need the support of a younger, productive population.

This inequality creates a burden—on families, government, and the economy—that can weigh on growth.

A study by the research company "Capital Economics", released last February, points to aging as a major reason for the possibility of China failing to overtake the United States to become the largest economy in the world by 2050. The demographic dilemma will be very severe, according to what "Mark Williams" said. ", the company's chief Asian economist, predicting that the Chinese economy will never surpass its American counterpart.

One Child Policy

Paradoxically, it was the greatest economic gain that prompted Chinese leaders to constrain population growth from the start.

The fewer the number of births, the faster the nation sheds poverty.

These efforts date back half a century ago, specifically during the campaign that began in the seventies of the last century, and prompted young people to postpone marriage and wait a longer period between the birth of the child and his brother and reduce the number of children per couple.

Then the stricter "one-child" policy, which prohibited most couples from having more than one child, appeared in 1979, coinciding with the start of capitalist reforms in the country.

It is difficult to measure the effects of the one-child policy.

Even without restricting childbearing, China's birth rate was destined to decline over time, a characteristic of rising affluence and emigration to cities.

But the one-child policy appears to have accelerated the aging of Chinese society, and there is no doubt that there are social losses, as tens of millions of only children today face the challenge of caring for their elderly parents with little support.

This policy has also distorted the gender balance in China, with many families giving up females, or worse.

Now, the male population outnumbers its female counterparts by about 40 million.

There are other losses, too, that we cannot assess: the grief over kinship, the scars of abortions and sterilizations, and other injustices suffered by the people at the hands of Chinese law enforcers.

Officials “planned demographics just as they planned consumer goods,” notes a 2018 assessment of the effects of the one-child policy.

Back then, in 2004, local experts began to pressure their leadership to lift these restrictions on childbearing.

However, another decade passed until the government began to gradually abolish the one-child policy, which was not completely repealed until 2016, when it began allowing couples to have two children.

After the catastrophe

Despite this decision, maternity wards in China's hospitals are not full.

In 2020, the number of Chinese births reached 12 million, the lowest level recorded since 1961, when the country was ravaged by a famine following the disastrous plan known as the "Great Leap Forward".

However, this miserable spectacle did not convince Chinese leaders to take the obvious and obvious step: lift restrictions on childbearing entirely.

Minzner of Fordham University blames rigid bureaucracy.

Out of the womb of the one-child policy, a complex bureaucratic apparatus for birth control emerged, where local officials were evaluated on the basis of their success in implementing this program, and then this system, along with the incentives that made it feasible, was entrenched in the administrative structure of the state.

Restrictions on childbearing have not lost their usefulness so far in the eyes of officials. The Chinese government still wishes to limit the numbers of certain groups of the population, especially minorities.

Concerned about the birth rate among Uyghur Muslims in the far western province of Xinjiang;

Chinese authorities have imposed widespread contraception, sterilization, and abortions on many Uyghur women. “Chinese authorities have a strong interest in maintaining control over demographics, and a complete lifting of reproductive restrictions may raise questions about why such restrictions apply to minorities".

On the other hand, the roots of the resistance to lifting the restrictions on childbearing run very deep, reaching the very core of communist rule.

The party promotes itself to its people as a party that is never wrong, and promises the Chinese that as long as they are peaceful and not involved in politics, it will continue to make achievements for them, so admitting failure becomes uncomfortable for the leadership of the Communist Party politically.

And this is exactly the position regarding the one-child policy, which has long been the core of the party's programme, with its intrusiveness and severe interference in the private lives of Chinese families.

Now, after all that has happened, admitting that this policy is a failure is a huge political risk. “Legitimacy should be a concern for Xi Jinping,” Wang Feng, a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine, told me. That is why the government is trying to present its apparent retreat from this policy as a mere modification of its course.

The government has repeatedly indicated that it may become more proactive in promoting more children.

During this year's Legislative Council meeting, Li Keqiang, China's premier (prime minister), noted China's need for an “appropriate” level of births.

The most recent five-year plan has set a goal of significantly increasing infant day-care facilities.

These measures may have an effect, but they often have little effect.

The declining population that China is now experiencing may simply be difficult to fix. “This is a really huge problem, and they're too late in trying to solve it," says Wang.

However, we cannot ignore the possibility of the Communist Party changing course completely.

Over the past five decades, Beijing has used its own repressive system to suppress births, and so it may be trying to use the same system to raise birth rates again.

China has enormous power to control population, and officials may re-use some of the means of promoting the one-child policy to persuade couples to have more children, including imposing heavy fines, and pairing them with new technologies.

The social assessment system, which rates people based on their behavior, can link raising children with bank loans or appointments to prestigious jobs.

The foregoing may seem terrible at first glance, but the Communist Party, in dire need of legitimizing itself by achieving economic goals, may once again take a dangerous path, driven not only by a long-term strategy, but also by the political necessity it envisions.

Again, the road may be fraught with personal grievances and tragedies that may eventually make the party itself regret its policies.


Translation: Hadeer Abdul Azim

This report is translated from: The Atlantic and does not necessarily represent the website of Meydan.