As China’s population ages rapidly, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China announced on May 31 that the people would be “allowed” to have three children, but the reaction of the people was not at all enthusiastic, and there were many curses, some saying, “Whoever wants to have children, go ahead! Others questioned, “What do you think we are, pigs?”
Instead of fretting about the aging population, Frédéric Lemaître, a Beijing-based correspondent for Le Monde, sees another side of the story: why doesn’t China open the door to immigration? “India, with a population comparable to China’s, has an inexhaustible supply of labor. This article does not mention that India is next to Pakistan and Bangladesh, which are countries with abundant human resources.
The results of China’s 2020 census, released on May 10, confirm that China is a country with an aging population. Chinese families have also not done much to take advantage of the opening of the authorities to have two children in 2016, and now they are given the opportunity to have a third child, with little indication of radically changing the trend. With a fertility rate of 1.3, China’s population is in rapid decline. According to a study published by the Lancet last July, China’s population will be reduced from the current 1.4 billion to 732 million by the year 2100! This is good news for the planet, but not for the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party. They have a pride that China is the most populous country in the world, and by 2100, not only will India far surpass China, but Nigeria will too.
What to do? In the opinion of Le Monde, the solution is to encourage immigration. China now has only 845,697 foreigners, twice less than the Paris Region. Many of these are still only people who have lived in China for only three months, and the vast majority of them will leave. The more logical approach, then, is to attract young people from neighboring countries, especially those with diplomas. The authors point out that India is an endless reservoir of the best labor. There are currently about 18 million Indians living in foreign countries, mostly in the UAE, Pakistan, and the U.S. In China, according to 2010 figures, there were only 15,000 Indians, and it is not expected to increase much today. One reason the authors argue that China should welcome Indian immigrants is that the disparity in living standards between the two Asian giants makes China attractive, with China now having five times more GDP per capita than India, so that in the future, India could provide a steady stream of immigrants to China, as Mexico has to the United States.
The problem is that China is not a country of immigrants. Of course it will one day become a country of immigrants, but right now the pace of change is slow. There seemed to be 20,000 foreigners in China in the 1980s, and it was only in the 2010 census that they were counted; the figure was 593,832. This does not include Taiwanese and Hong Kong people, and Macau people, which increased by 42 percent in ten years, but the total is pitifully small compared to China’s huge population.
The author believes that Chinese President Xi Jinping realizes the seriousness of the problem, which is why China joined the International Organization for Migration in 2016, especially since the Beijing authorities also established the National Migration Administration in 2018. According to a study by Tabitha Speelman published in Perspectives chinoises 2020, Issue 4, China has previously used the term “foreigners” rather than “migrants” to refer to people living on its soil. This change in designation is symbolic but relative, as China has previously referred to foreign residents living on its soil as “foreigners” rather than “migrants. “The Chinese government recognizes China as a destination country for foreign immigrants, but this in no way implies that Beijing considers itself a country of immigrants,” and moreover, the “National Immigration Bureau” is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Public Security, which is tantamount to the central government taking jurisdiction out of local hands and into its own. In 2019, the biggest result of the agency’s “border security policy” was the deportation of a number of foreign illegal immigrants.
With a rapidly aging population, China will have a serious labor shortage in the future, but allowing people from neighboring countries to migrate to “a very nationalistic China” is, in Ms. Speelman’s opinion, a very sensitive topic in China. She reminded that China’s National Immigration Bureau (NIB) introduced the first bill since its birth in 2020 to provide long-term status – “green cards” – to a wider range of foreign nationals, but Chinese public opinion reacted so negatively that the NIB finally had to backtrack. Add to that came a new crown virus, and the Chinese became even more wary of foreigners, especially Indians.
Beijing had one last resort, encouraging overseas Chinese to return home! But it is hard to say how much this will solve the problem in the long run, and how many will return. An op-ed in France’s Le Monde concludes that the paradox of wanting to be the world’s number one power while cowering behind the Great Wall is an unprecedented paradox in the “state of China”.