Dr Zhao Baige (vice-minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission) said yesterday that there was a “very serious process” currently taking place regarding the review of China’s infamous one-child policy. Her comments were typically tentative but the admission that the policy is under scrutiny from high level officials has been taken by many China-watchers to mean that a gradual relaxation of the rules could be on the cards.
“I cannot answer at what time or how [we will decide]”, Zhao was quoted as saying, “but this has really become a big issue among decision makers”. China’s population woes have been well-documented – particularly the continuing male bias amongst Chinese families – and Zhao stated that the government was currently looking into the social, economic, and environmental implications of the family planning rules introduced in the 1970s. Currently limiting urban families to one child and rural households to two, the rules can be bypassed if large fines are paid but in some areas this has exacerbated tensions over China’s growing wealth gap and Zhao’s comments could signal the government’s intention to loosen the existing laws as they attempt to head off the country’s population timebomb.
That said, any changes would certainly be gradual and may not be for some time yet. Indeed, although this is a significant admission from a well placed official, we have been here before. When it was announced in the early 1980s that relaxations in the much maligned policy were being discussed, this led to a baby boom and officials quickly back-tracked. Fears over repeating such an unwanted population explosion will mean that the government will be very cautious about releasing any definite decisions to the public.
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