The month of October will be an incredibly important one for the pro-life movement across the world. Tensions are already growing in the United States on “filling that seat” on the Supreme Court, which may decisively turn the tide for pro-life conservatives for a generation in the highest court of the most powerful nation on Earth. Indeed, the next month may offer one of the greatest victories in a generation for the movement.
But on the other side of the world, another “October Surprise” may be on the cards. Speculation is growing that China may finally abolish a policy — 40 years too late — by removing all birth restrictions. This would end the two-child policy (at least for the ethnic Han majority, who suffered most under China’s birth restrictions). The move would come only five years after the one-child policy came to an end.
Although most mainstream media outlets have failed to pick up on this development yet, this writer will venture a prophecy — October 2020 is likely to be the month when the birth restrictions, which should never have been implemented, are finally abolished.
The monumental change, should it transpire, will take place at the 5th Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). A mouthful of a meeting, it can be summarized this way: the entire core leadership of the Party will meet in Beijing to decide on a theme and make major resolutions on the issues related to that theme.
Themes may vary, with the Second Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee in January 2018, dropping the bombshell that the CCP was amending its Constitution so that it could crown Xi Jinping as President for Life by abolishing term limits. However, most 5th Plenary Sessions have a constant theme — the drafting of the next Five-Year Plan.
Five-Year Plans, for those who are not fanboys of Soviet and Communist history, are relics from the Soviet Union, exported to Communist China after 1949. Basically a centrally planned platform for the socioeconomic directives and initiatives for the entire country over the following five years, China’s five-year plans have been in place since 1953. The present one is the “13th Five-Year Plan”.
The plans are drafted and then approved almost every single time at the 5th Plenary Session of a Central Committee, because their five-year term ends after every 5th plenary session, heralding the need for a new one. Next year will usher in the “14th Five-Year Plan”, which is exactly what Xi and his mandarins will be discussing this coming October in Beijing.
OK, so plenty of political jargon, but what signals show that the two-child policy may finally be abolished once and for all at this boring-sounding meeting of Communist tyrants? Well, there is precedent — every single time the birth policy was reformed, it occurred during a plenary session. It was the Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee in October 2015 that ended the one-child policy. It wrote the two-child policy into the official draft document of the 13th Five-Year Plan, which China is in the process of implementing until the end of 2020.
And the reform before that? It came in 2013, during the 3rd session of the 18th Central Committee in November 2013, which saw Xi Jinping timidly begin to dismantle the one-child policy by allowing couples with one member who is an only child to apply for the quota to have a second child. Incredibly underwhelming, I know, but at that time it was unthinkable because the National Family Planning Commission of China vehemently denied any possibility of both reforms before the two Plenary Sessions.
So here’s the bottom line: if these birth policy reforms, including the eventual abolition of the entire birth restriction system, are ever going to happen, it can only take place at one of these plenary sessions. And this time around, Xi looks to plan at this meeting his entire blueprint all the way to the year 2035. This means that if no birth-policy reforms occur at this vital point in time, the two-child policy will probably be around for a very long time.
Just as the battle for the seat of the Supreme Court in America will decide the pro-life fight for the next few decades, this Plenary Session and any decisions the Central Committee makes will decide if millions of babies can be born, or not, at least for the next decade-and-a-half in China.
Right now, as the seat in DC is in the hands of Trump and Mitch McConnell, the decision which will make or break the lives of countless unborn Chinese lies with Xi Jinping. Now that does not deliver any confidence, for Xi Jinping and his regime has been ruthless in Xinjiang, sterilizing Uyghurs en masse (covered in depth in one of my earlier articles), but Xi may well be considering the nuclear option of ending birth restrictions at least for the Han majority due to a myriad of factors.
To understand why this might be happening, we need to take a closer look at Xi and his father Xi Zhongxun, who was also one of the most powerful men in China. It is important to be aware of their personal legacies in relation to China’s birth policies, to understand why Xi Jinping may well be the man to end the inhumane policy (due to completely self-serving and dehumanizing calculations of his own).
Xi Junior and his obedience to the one-child policy
In the 1980s, Xi Jinping was a 30-year-old deputy Party Chief at Zhengding County in rural Hebei Province near Beijing. His father had only been politically resurrected a few years before from political persecution following the end of the Cultural Revolution. (More on Xi Senior later). Xi Jinping had managed to land the job in Zhengding thanks to his father’s maneuvers, and actually gave up a military position in Beijing for the role of a local county governor.
He was largely ignored at first because everyone thought he was going to come and go, as most “red princelings” do these days — using the county position as a mere stepping stone to return to the nerve centre, Beijing. But Xi had a different plan. He wanted to make a name for himself in Zhengding and climb his way up. Therefore, as Deputy Party Chief and then Party Chief, Xi began to leave his mark on Zhengding aggressively.
Some of his policies were benign — getting a bus route to come to Zhengding from the provincial capital, Shijiazhuang, making use of Zhengding’s ancient Buddhist temple treasures to promote tourism, and building a “Dream of the Red Chamber” theme-park set to attract the shooting and production of films.
But the 1980s did not merely herald the beginning of the market economy in China — it also ushered in a period of full-on assault on the reproductive rights of the Chinese people. Xi, as a local mandarin eager to make an impression, launched an all-out assault on the women of Zhengding in 1983, which is also the year when National Family Planning Commissioner Qian Xinzhong rolled out his aggressive warlike national forced sterilization operations.
Xi had 31,000 women sterilized in Zhengding and had IUDs inserted into another 30,000 in late 1983 alone. When covering this for The New York Times in a profile of Xi Jinping as he was about to take over power in China, Times reporter Ian Johnson stated that there was “no evidence that Xi was more zealous than others” in the implementation. But it was still incredibly zealous — Zhengding only had around 400,000-450,000 people back in 1983, and Xi oversaw the sterilization of 61,000 women in that whirlwind campaign, which was more than a third of all women in Zhengding and probably nearly half of all women of reproductive age.
Xi Senior and his “rebellion”
Before Xi junior’s climb up the ladder, atop the wombs and fetuses of the Zhengding people, Xi Zhongxun was already trailblazing reforms in the coastal province of Guangdong as party secretary in the province with his partner Ren Zhongyi, who continued the reforms in Guangdong after Xi Senior returned to Beijing. Xi Zhongxun is remembered today for proposing to create the special economic zones in Guangdong and creating the first market-based economy in Communist China. But Xi Senior’s legacy in Guangdong has another interesting aspect — the aspect of human life.
Xi Zhongxun and Ren Zhongyi both understood something the Beijing leadership did not — that human resources and manpower are something to be cherished, not feared. They knew that China’s best resource in the 1980s was none other than its hard-working people eager to lift themselves out of poverty.
In order for the factories to flourish, cheap labour needed to come into the party and attract investment. Xi and Ren managed to get policies specifically catered to Guangdong — Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping basically granted them the power of policy autonomy, or as he put it in guerilla warfare terms: “fight a bloody path out”. And when it came to population policy, Guangdong was far more radical than anywhere else in Han-majority China, just like its economic radicalism.
In 1980, just as the nationwide one-child policy was being rolled out, Xi Zhongxun’s Guangdong had a different approach. Xi Zhongxun allowed Guangdong women to have two children, something unheard of outside of ethnic-minority areas as the one-child frenzy began to take over pretty much every province.
In 1986 the policy changed to allow rural couples to have two children, but that was still considerably more humane than what was happening in the rest of China. Most other Han-majority provinces applied one-child quotas to every urban couple and only loosened the rules slightly to allow rural couples with a firstborn daughter to have a second child.
Xi and Ren’s two-child policy was universal in Guangdong at first and remained universal in rural Guangdong, and according to independent Chinese demographer Yi Fuxian, Xi Senior’s policy, which was only abolished in 1998 following immense pressure from the National Family Commission long after his retirement, may have allowed 5 million more births to occur in the province, which would not have occurred had he implemented the one-child policy like his son in Zhengding.
Xi Zhongxun was also resistant to the proclamation of any formal nationwide Family Planning Bill and repeatedly resisted the efforts to pass any such bill. It was only after his retirement that the National Family Planning Commission’s bid for such a bill succeeded in 2001, long after China had already reached sub-replacement fertility.
Fast forward a few decades, and now Xi Jinping is at the crossroads of a major choice. He no longer needs to impress any seniors with his implementation of baby slaughter. He actually has already dismantled a lot of the birth-control machine in China. But he is doing so because he has realized to some extent that China is falling off a demographic cliff. Xi mentioned in detail in his rationale for abolishing the one-child policy in 2015 that China faces a rapidly ageing population and the adverse effects this may have on the socioeconomic health of China — which is now his China. But he still did not have the courage to abolish all birth restrictions.
Since then, China’s birth rates have continued to plummet. Rumours had already begun to swirl suggesting that all birth restrictions would be lifted as early as 2018, with 2020 deemed “the latest” for the birth restriction to end. Initial feasibility studies had already been submitted to Premier Li Keqiang in 2018 about ending all birth restrictions. Every year, people in China thought the announcement would come through.
And now, in 2020, Xi is as vulnerable as ever due to his strategic blunders as well as his arrogance. If there is one policy announcement that could relieve him of some pressure, it would be an announcement to formally grant birth freedoms back to the Chinese people. It would not cause any controversy, and is unlikely to cause any baby booms, given how deeply entrenched the one-child and two-child norm is in Chinese society. It would be a purely symbolic gesture, but a hugely symbolic one.
Of course there are possible snags that could derail this prophecy about the October announcement. Ethnic minorities like the Uyghurs are now subject to 1980s-style mass sterilizations. Leftovers from the now defunct Family Planning Commission apparatus continue to spread Malthusian lies and demographic paranoia. But if there is one thing Xi can learn from his reformist father, it may be dismantling and opposing the family-planning apparatus, which has not only destroyed the lives of Chinese people (especially women), but could also derail Xi’s so-called “China Dream”. This is because an ageing, overburdened nation falling off a demographic cliff may be the one thing that could decisively cripple Xi’s ambitions.
So, we look to the October Surprise with bated breath. Both DC and Beijing may yet pleasantly surprise everybody.