The Seventh National Census in China was started in November 2020 and went on till December 10, 2020 utilising 7 million census workers to carry out the exercise. It covered the entire Chinese population – citizens living in mainland China, as well as those living abroad on temporary visas. Foreigners who lived in the mainland for more than six months were also recorded.
In 2019, China had claimed that its population was 1.4 Billion. Sources told Sun Yu of the Financial Times (FT), the Financial Times (report dated 27th April 2021) that the 2020 Census recorded a figure less than that in 2020. However, Chinese demographers asserted that there was no decline in the same year. A demographic expert and senior researcher at the Centre for China and Globalisation, Huang Wezheng informed the Global Times that even if the population of China did not reach the benchmark of 1.4 billion in 2020, it does not indicate any decrease in the population. “It is merely a statistical error”. On 28th April 2021, a report from Bloomberg News cited that the drop in the population of China in 2020 is implausible. Nonetheless, a population peak earlier than the estimated years – in 2022, could be a vital prospect, suggested the article. This was supported by a report in the Global Times of April 29th, 2021, that quoted the National Bureau of Statistics as saying the population of China continued to increase in 2020.
To discount such a probability in the future, demographers offered suggestions; these included major policy changes regarding family planning. The government of China had relaxed the family planning policy in 2015, allowing couples to rear more than one child. Dong Yuzheng, Director of Guangdong Institute of Population Development added that with a total of 1.4 billion, it is a surprise that birth numbers are dropping to less than 10 million. He Yafu, a demographic expert, advised that the decline in the birth rate would convince the government to completely repeal any sort of birth restrictions.
Contrary to this, an analysis from the PBoC – People’s Bank of China stated that ‘policy relaxations will be of little use’ for tackling a supposedly drastic population decline in 2022.
Factors such as low social acceptance of the notion of rearing more than two children and employment pressure on women elicit low birth rates. After the lift of one-child policy, the birth rate increased in 2016. However, it reduced briefly for the next three consecutive years. Due to lack of social support, governmental aid and provisions for schooling, Chinese women are reluctant to procreate. A working paper published by China’s Central Bank substantiated the fact that the country’s demographic conditions have reversed. The decline of population is projected to be much quicker than the increase of birth rate. It affirmed that the average number of children a Chinese woman would have has reduced from 1.8 to 1.5.
The decline of the population of China, irrespective of the year it happens, would impact the strength of the labour force and in turn on manufacturing capacities which depend a lot currently on labour intensive production facilities with a little help from technology. It would also impact the domestic market for goods and services which in turn would impact the GDP and make it less attractive for multinational firms to set up manufacturing facilities in China. It would also, in time, increase the financial pressure on retirees, as their return on investments reduce.
Some economists however argue that a population decline would essentially be helpful in increasing the annual GDP mathematically. On the other hand, the negative growth (where the population size reduces) alludes to a population ageing, which does not fit the focus of China’s economy. The youth bring about productivity and efficiency in the workflow, thus making a greater contribution to the economy cycle and increase the GDP as well as NDP. This in turn does have an impact on the world as China is now the second biggest player in the world economy with its exports and domestic market m, a hot property for businesses across the world. Combined with its technological prowess, it is the cradle of new world economic order, that the US and its allies are trying hard to rock into oblivion.
A declining and changing demography has tremendous challenges and the reported census figures are in many ways a cause for concern and one must wait and watch how China deals with them.