Despite Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s promise to the Chinese people of “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” the country’s declining birth rate is really complicating his ambition to surpass the United States economically. China: The declining population runs counter to Xi’s nationalist dreams, as reported by the French weekly Le Moniteur Bruyette.
Will China’s Communist regime, which continues to proclaim the superiority of its model, succeed in escaping this demographic trap? Bruyette points out that, for now, it is certain that the external face has been saved, as the Chinese Commission of Biological Planning affirms that China’s population continued to grow last year, reaching 1.412 billion inhabitants (compared to 1.4 billion the year before), a demographic finding that was announced with a month’s delay, raising doubts about the veracity of these figures. However, compared to 2010, population growth was limited to 5.4%, the lowest level since China’s first census in 1953 (this is the second census). Worse, this downward trend could start as early as 2022, as the Communist Party’s daily mouthpiece Global Times admits, while until now Beijing has predicted a peak in 2027.
This may come as a welcome relief to China’s environmentalists: With a smaller population, it will be easier for the Chinese to meet their ecological goals in the future.
“The dream of a “great renaissance of the Chinese nation
China is not the first country to experience this phenomenon: in Asia, such as South Korea and Japan, they have long been aware of it. But symbolically, these figures send a negative signal at a time when China is in the midst of growing hostility with the United States and wants to be a world leader itself.
China’s current birth rate freeze and the inevitability of its aging population do not fit well with the nationalist statements of President Xi Jinping, who promised “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”! And it doesn’t match up with the terminology that the Communist regime so eloquently puts forward: “The East is rising, the West is falling”! In short, these demographics do not give the impression that the Chinese people are vibrant and confident about the future. These are not the claims made by the Chinese Communist authorities!
Ruyter also points out that for China, the country’s large population is a weighty argument. When it wants to put pressure on its economic partners, such as the European Union, it does not hesitate to emphasize the huge potential of its internal market, which represents a very tempting opportunity for these companies. China is also comforted by the fact that it is the most populous country in Asia when it comes to India, its biggest adversary and neighbor with extremely tense relations with each other. According to UN projections, India’s population is expected to surpass China’s by 2030.
But Beijing’s main concern is particularly economic: China’s declining population could thwart its plans to overtake the United States as the world’s top economic power. Over the past 40 years, China’s spectacular rise has actually relied heavily on its vast low-cost labor resources. Unfortunately, China’s population is shrinking year by year.” According to a study published by The Lancet in September 2020, China’s population will decrease from the current 1.4 billion to 732 million by 2100, a 48 percent reduction.
By 2030, that number could decline by 0.5 percent per year, with a similar impact on GDP, according to estimates by the specialist consultancy Capital Economics in London.” According to the consultancy, however, a greater slowdown in China’s population growth will make it more difficult to reach the goal of catching up economically with the United States. This will have an impact on China’s global standing that is difficult to assess.
What’s more, the outlook for the U.S. across the Pacific on this topic is more encouraging. A working paper published last March by researchers at China’s central bank showed concern about UN projections that the US population will increase by 15% by 2050 compared to 2019, while China’s population will decline by 2.2% over the same period.
Calls to launch a fertility policy
But the decline could also have a stinging effect. Goodman, an Asia adviser at the Montaigne Institute, noted meaningfully that the sting “is that China cannot continue to be the world’s factory indefinitely. All that matters now is whether China will still be able to increase productivity and move upmarket as its workforce assets diminish,” he said.
Among the solutions that have been announced in China is the planned extension of the retirement age (now 55 for women and 60 for men), which is a hot issue. This also has to deal with the consequences of the aging of the whole society: between 2010 and 2020, the rate of the population aged 65 or older rises from 8.87% to 13.5%. This is a real unexploded bomb, which, to a large extent, poses a threat to the health and retirement system in China, which is not yet strong enough.
One expert in the Global Times said soothingly that starting this fall, the Chinese government will probably withdraw the limit on the number of children a couple can have; the restriction states that a couple can have 2 children. Several Chinese experts implored the government to, among other things, also initiate a real policy to raise fertility rates. Dong Yuzheng, director of the Population Development Department of the Guangzhou Institute in China, pointed out to a Chinese newspaper that if nothing more is done, the number of births in China will fall below the sub-million threshold even since next year.
China, which is more inclined to distrust foreign countries, is also less likely to adopt the practice of mass immigration. So will its spectacular developments in digital technology and artificial intelligence help it overcome the challenges posed by a shrinking population? In the aforementioned report, researchers from the People’s Bank of China decided that “neither education nor economic progress can make up for the lack of population decline.
China’s population may have started declining long ago
The demographer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Yi Fu Xian, finally concluded that, in fact, in 2018, China’s population has already begun to decline, and by 2020, it is likely that China’s population will not exceed 1.28 billion. According to him, India’s population in 2019 is estimated at 1.38 billion inhabitants and may have been the most populous country in the world since 2013 or 2014, and will be in the future.
According to expert Yi Fuxian, the Communist regime could instead find an advantage due to its aging population. If 15 to 29-year-olds represent the most dynamic group at the economic level, then they are also the most passionate group politically. The demographer stresses that because they were the first to experience the Cultural Revolution, China’s young population peaked in 1990 with an average age of 25, and then contributed to the rise of the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square.