The Wall Street Journal reports that a think tank connected to China’s State Council has published a report recommending that the country should phase out its one-child policy, first by allowing two children per family by 2015 before doing away with the controversial policy altogether by 2020:
The report, produced by the China Development Research Foundation and highlighted by the state-run Xinhua news agency, points to China’s plummeting birth rate and numerous impending demographic imbalances in arguing that the one-child policy has outlived its usefulness, according to Xinhua.
China should have no need for birth planning after 2020, and should in fact begin encouraging families to have more children to avoid dangerously low fertility rates in the future, Xinhua quotes the report as saying.
Chinese family planning authorities credit the one-child policy with preventing around 400 million births, but concerns over the economic implications of China’s rapidly aging population, a widening gender imbalance and growing rights consciousness have led increasing numbers of academics and regular citizens to openly question the policy, which is sometimes enforced in brutal ways.
The Associated Press reports that while the report has significance because it comes from a government-affiliated group, “it remains unclear whether Chinese leaders are ready” to implement its recommended approach:
Cai Yong, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said the report holds extra weight because the think tank is under the State Council, China’s Cabinet. He said he found it remarkable that state-backed demographers were willing to publicly propose such a detailed schedule and plan on how to get rid of China’s birth limits.
“That tells us at least that policy change is inevitable, it’s coming,” said Cai, who was not involved in the drafting of the report but knows many of the experts who were. Cai is a visiting scholar at Fudan University in Shanghai. “It’s coming, but we cannot predict when exactly it will come.”
Adding to the uncertainty is a once-in-a-decade leadership transition that starts Nov. 8 and will see a new slate of top leaders installed by next spring. Cai said the transition could keep population reform on the back burner or changes might be rushed through to help burnish the reputations of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao on their way out.
See also recent CDT coverage of China’s controversial one-child policy.