The revision in the family planning policy does not indicate that the birth of second children is permitted.
Recently, the National Board of Health and Family Planning issued notice that “the health service” would implement a “perfect family planning policy and issue a revised bill in due course”, which attracted widespread attention. However, the board’s publicity secretary and news spokesperson Mao Qunan stated, “It would be a mistake to interpret this revision in ‘family planning policy’ as indication that the second child policy will be opened up.”
This promise to implement a “perfect family planning policy and issue a revised bill in due course” was interpreted by the media as the impending release of a policy allowing families to have a second child. In the current climate of a society with a low birth rate and a rapidly ageing population, some scholars have proposed phasing in a policy that allows a second child, for example by starting with permitting couples who have no siblings to have a second child.
According to news issued by the National Board of Health and Family Planning’s website on the 2nd of August, its publicity secretary and news spokesperson Mao Qunan stated that its fundamental national family planning policy must be adhered to long term.
Mao Qunan stated that for the foreseeable future, the fundamental state of the nation will still consist of a large, inadequately supported population, less resources per capita, insufficient environmental capacity and uneven development. The stress that the population has on the economy, society, resources and the environment will be present for a long time. The fundamental national family planning policy must be adhered to long term.
At the same time, Mao Qunan stated, a “perfect family planning policy” was an important responsibility of the National Board of Health and Family Planning. A perfect family planning policy must consider maintaining China’s low birth rate, as well as a good deal of other factors such as the people’s desire to raise children, social and economic development, and demographic changes. Therefore, “The board is currently organising research into the relationships between the quantity, nature, composition and distribution of the population so that the grounds for the perfect policy can be discovered.”
A lot of the news media took the above quote mean that research was underway to decide whether a policy permitting couples who have no siblings to have a second child should be implemented.
However, according to a report in the “Beijing Morning Post” on the 7th of August, Mao Qunan clarified things further, saying that a lot of people consider that family planning policy is all about the number of births. In fact, it’s far more than just this. “It would be a mistake to interpret this revision in ‘family planning policy’ as indication that the second child policy will be opened up. It is not the same as just deciding whether or not to implement a policy permitting second births.”
“Perfecting the family planning policy” really isn’t anything new.
According to the aforementioned report of the “Beijing Morning Post”, Lu Jiehua, demographer and Peking University sociology professor, pointed out that adjusting the family planning policy and persisting with the basic national policy on it is not contradictory. Additionally, “progressively improving the policy” simply does not imply that the policy on second child births will be opened up. He also noted that “perfecting the family planning policy” really isn’t anything new. A similar argument has been made in the Twelfth Five-Year Plan with regards to population development.
From my understanding, the “‘Twelfth Five-Year’ Plan with regards to population development” and the National Board of Health and Family Planning’s “three rules” proposal all mention progressively “improving the family planning policy”.
On the 25th of June 2013, straight after the National Board of Health and Family Planning was established, it held its first round of online interviews, and made a live broadcast from its official post on Weibo “@Healthy China“. Many web users comments still surrounded the one child policy, including topics such as how the situation of parents losing an only child should be dealt with and whether couples who are themselves only children could have a second child.
For example, a web user asked how improvements in family planning policy would be reflected in the mid to long term plans of the National Board of Health and Family Planning. In response, the National Board of Health and Family Planning’s news secretary Hou Yan said that although under the current birth policy the growth in the population had fallen off, he expected that in the next 20 years it would continue to increase and that further discrepancies would appear between the population and it’s resources, environment and economy. Therefore, the State Council took “persevering with the national family planning policy” as priority of its “Twelfth Five-Year” plan regarding population development.
Hou Yan said, “We will in accordance with the national policy on population development improve step by step the family planning policy system, implement policies related to the population policy, and also promote family planning and coordinated economic and social development whilst not over-stretching resources and the environment.”
The decline in the working-age population in 2012
According to a report in the “Beijing Morning Post”, Lu Jiehua believes that under the current population climate, China’s birth policy has already ushered in an intermediary adjustment phase. This is due to China having a low birth rate for a long period of time, causing an increasingly serious ageing of the population and a decline in the working-age population.
In 2012, the national economic and social development figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics showed that in 2012 China’s working-age population experienced its first absolute decline in a long time. In 2012, China’s working population of 15-59 years olds stood at 937 million, which was a reduction of 3.45 million from the end of the previous year, representing a 0.6% decrease. At the same time, the over-60 population stood at 190 million, which was 14.3% of the total population, representing a 0.59% increase from the year prior.
In a press conference held by the State Council Information Office, head of the National Bureau of Statistics Ma Jiantang specifically pointed out that the media should pay attention to the falling figures of the working-age population, “I think that the working-age population from 15 to 59 will reduce stably over a relatively long period of time up to at least 2030.”
“You asked me whether this issue concerns me. I can’t deny that it does.” Ma Jiantang said that after decades of family planning, the composition of China’s population and labour supply had seen some changes. He believes, “At the same time as persevering with the one child policy, it will also be necessary to research appropriate scientific policies on population in accordance with the latest situation.”