This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Monday, February 3, 2020:
The number of babies born in China in 2019 was the lowest since 1961, during the forced implementation of Mao Tse-tung’s “Great Leap Forward.” That effort to turn China’s agrarian society into a purely communist one not only cost the lives of an estimated 45 million people through starvation but dropped the number of births to less than 12 million in a year.
Afterward, policies were implemented by Mao’s followers to rein in China’s population growth, which soared following that greatest famine in all of human history. Chinese officials implemented a “two child policy” in 1969, but changed it 10 years later to “one child” per family, with some exceptions.
That policy worked so well that Chinese officials celebrated the news that 400 million births were prevented. Actual births prevented, including the families not created, approached a billion, according to more reliable outside sources.
It set in motion what Yuanj Xin, a demographer at Nankai University, told Financial Times is “an irreversible trend.”
The trend became obvious in 2017, the year after communist Chinese officials relaxed its “one child” policy and implemented some incentives for married citizens to increase the size of their families. In 2016, 17.9 million babies were born in China. That number fell to 17.2 million the next year, dropping to 15.2 million in 2018 and then to 14.2 million last year. When China’s “fertility rate” is calculated, it is below the “replacement” rate of 2.1 births per family — it’s officially estimated at 1.6. Unofficial and more reliable estimates put the country’s fertility rate at just over 1. In northeast China the fertility index is 0.5, meaning that the next generation in that region will be a quarter the size of the last generation.
Estimates are that even if China can bring its fertility index back up to 1.2, its total population will fall from 1.4 billion to just one billion by 2050 and less than 500 million by the turn of the century. And that’s a big if.
The New York Times said that the continuing drop in births “could have a seismic effect” in the years to come. The command economy has all but destroyed the traditional Chinese family’s culture of taking care of its own. It has created what the Financial Times calls a demographic “time bomb,” with the country facing vast and increasing shortages of labor for its manufacturing sector and negatively impinging on its ability to care for its old.
The problem is exacerbated by the fall in the number of women of child-bearing age, thanks to socialist family planning that began in 1980 when baby boys were preferred to girls. Said Yuan Xin of Nankai University, “We are facing a shortage of would-be mothers.” There are currently an estimated 24 million single men of marrying age unable to find wives. And those who can find wives learn very quickly that those young women aren’t interested in having children. Said Xin: “Young people’s ideas of family and giving birth are changing, and traditional values such as sustaining family lineages through giving birth have been weakening.”
China’s population started shrinking two years ago, according to Yi Fuxian, an economist at Peking University, who called it “a historic turning point in China’s population.”
The impact is showing up in numerous places. Analysts at JPMorgan are predicting a further slowdown of China’s economy, which they say “means that China will remain the second-largest economy much longer than expected.” According to the latest World Population Prospects report from the UN, 27 countries now have fewer people today than they did just 10 years ago. In another 10 years that number will grow to 55. And China will be near the top of the list.
China’s working-age population (ages 15 to 64) has shrunk for four straight years, while its “dependency rate” — the portion of nonworking people — rose for the first time in more than 30 years in 2011 and is expected to continue rising. This is putting existential pressure on the country’s retirement plans, with estimates they will run out of money in less than 15 years.
The country’s GDP, already under pressure (with China expert Gordon Chang voicing the opinion that it is already flat) will likely continue to decline. This will inhibit the communists’ ability to continue to fund its Belt and Road Initiative, the “Venus fly trap” it has been using successfully to draw in its neighbors to become virtual vassals of the Chinese leadership.
The size of China’s labor force is rapidly declining while it’s getting older. As Yi Fuxian wrote in the South China Morning Post:
The younger a nation’s population … the stronger its vitality … so in many ways the median age reflects economic vitality. China’s median age was 22 in 1980. By 2018 it was 40. It will rise to 45 in 2030 and 56 in 2050….
We can say that the US economy will not be overtaken by China.… China’s economic vitality will continue to decline.