Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 05:43 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 05:43 | SYDNEY

China one-child policy: The damage is done


Malcolm Cook

29 February 2008 13:50

Next week, the National People’s Congress will meet in the warm atmosphere of the thirtieth anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s economic opening reforms, a set of policies that radically changed China’s trajectory and helped it regain its paramount position in Asia. This week, the Chinese Government also cast its eye on another landmark government policy that has redefined China’s modern trajectory, and which is also roughly 30 years old, the one-child policy. Yet, rather than celebrating its success, the government is wondering whether it has been too successful and is talking about loosening its strict (if not always observed) limits on reproductive rights.

The one-child policy and its demographic results is now one of the most pressing challenges to China’s future economic growth and, potentially, social stability. Yet changing it now may be a case of too little, too late. It is estimated that by 2020, China will bear the burden of up to 30 million 'bare branches' (the surplus of men of marriable age over women). By 2013, China’s labour force is also predicted to peak and then begin to decline, putting growing pressure on China’s substantial competitive advantage in labour-intensive manufacturing. Even a sudden abandonment of the one-child policy, which is certainly not on the cards, would not reverse these long-term trends. Thanks to the success and intended consequences of China’s one-child policy, China will get old before it gets rich enough to shift its massive economy upwards to a mature, capital-intensive and services-drive one. Any change now will do little to sustain China’s economic trajectory.

Photo by Flickr user Alexandra Moss, used under a Creative Commons licence. The sign reads, 'Everyone is responsible for the success of the one-child policy'.