Officials had said earlier both controversial policies were under review, but that did not diminish the force of Friday’s announcement.
The biggest change could be the abolishment of the so-called “re-education through labor” system under which tens of thousands are imprisoned in China without trial.
“Reform through labor” was set up in the 1950s under Mao Zedong and modeled on Soviet gulags — a place where “counterrevolutionaries” and “class enemies” could be detained without trial.
Millions are believed to have died through overwork, suicide and harsh conditions until a system overhaul in the 1970s when Deng Xiaoping released prisoners accused of political and religious offenses.
The new child policy will permit couples to have two children provided only one of the parents is an only child, a slight change from the the current law mandating that both parents must be only children to have a second child.
Many speculate this decision will be more divisive. On one hand, people have criticized the one-child policy for resulting in forced abortions, impacting China’s elderly who rely on their children for support, and hurting economic growth due to a decreasing number of working age people and “little emperor syndrome.”
On the other hand, the one-child policy has done wonders for slowing population growth, and preventing the world’s resources from taking as damaging a hit as they would have otherwise. In fact, the WSJ forecasts that the shockwaves created by the one-child-policy reform will impact US farms:
Economists said anything that further grows China’s population—which had been projected to peak around 1.4 billion in 2020—is likely to add to demand for U.S. farm goods. In particular, China will need more corn, wheat, soybeans and meal made from the oilseeds to feed the chickens, hogs, cattle and dairy cows it will need to produce to feed its growing population, said Bruce A. Babcock, a professor of economics at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.
“More children will mean more dairy products and as those children age, meat consumption will rise,” said Dan Kowalski, an economist at Greenwood Village, Colo.-based CoBank, which provides loans, leases and export financing to agribusinesses. “China will not be able to meet all its corn and soybean needs so it will rely on more imports. The U.S. is a prime supplier to China and that trade will become more important as time goes on.”
China is forecast to import 7 million metric tons of corn and 69 million tons of soybeans in the marketing year that started on Oct. 1, both records, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most of that is used to fatten animals consumed by China’s burgeoning middle class, which ate 13.5 million tons of chicken and 52.7 million tons of pork, also records, USDA data show. China will import 775,000 tons of pork in 2014, again the most ever.
Even with the current one-child policy, many countries are hemorrhaging resources to feed the Chinese giant.
Less of a mixed bag is the death penalty reform, which will decrease the number of crimes punishable by capital offense, something China has doled out liberally in the past.