We have often blogged about the one-child policy in China. Last year we discussed the relaxation of the one-child policy (it is now a two-child policy) as the Chinese government finally decided that losing face by backtracking on a thirty year old policy was better than the disastrous unintended demographic and economic problems that it was causing. (The wickedness of the policy has not forced any change…) Last month Shannon posted an excellent book review of Mei Fong’s book “One Child” – both the book and Shannon’s blogpost are well worth reading.

Today, I want to report on further signs that the Chinese government is considering even further relaxations of its family planning rules. The English version of the Caixin website has noted that there has been a significant change in wording in Premier Li Keqiang’s government work report to the annual meeting of the Chinese legislature.

Li pledged more support for couples choosing to have a second infant in his report delivered on March 5. Furthermore, the phrase “family planning” was not included in his report at all – this is the first time since the one-child policy came into effect over three decades ago that the phrase has not been used in a premiers’ report. Significantly, Caixin reports:

“Another important clue about a shift in thinking among policymakers is Li’s reference to China’s vast population as an abundant human resource, the first time in decades a powerful figure has said so. ‘We have 900 million people of working age and over 100 million of them have a college degree or are trained professionals who are our biggest resource and advantage,’ Li said in his report.”

This change in rhetorical emphasis comes against the background of an ageing Chinese population and a shrinking working-age population. Suddenly, having more babies is seen as a boon and not a liability. Unfortunately for China, the easing of the one-child policy last year is unlikely to change its medium and long-term demographic outlook. The national census in 2010 contained information which showed that the number of women in the prime childbearing ages of 22 to 29 will fall by 42 percent over the next decade. Thus, it is unlikely that any baby boom resulting from the relaxation of the one-child policy will be sustained. Obviously words are not going to solve this problem, and so other members of the Communist party hierarchy are advocating further policy changes:

“Huang Xihua, a deputy to the National People’s Congress from Guangdong, recently proposed a law that would give couples who have a second child tax breaks and mothers longer maternity leave. Li Wei, a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the top governmental advisory body, proposed scrapping all family-planning rules by the end of 2017 so that couples could decide how many babies they want.”

Let us hope for the Chinese people that these policy changes are listened to and adopted. Premier Li’s change in tone is a welcome first step, but when families are given back the power and the legal right to decide how many children to have, then and only then will this injustice be ended. 

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...