Why is China Easing its One-Child Policy?

China’s controversial one-child policy change fits in the overarching framework of the government’s zealous pursuit of economic growth.

china-one-child-policyThe National People Congress of China has approved relaxation of the over three-decade old one-child policy. It will enable the couples to have two children. The easing of the opprobrious policy is expected to benefit 15 million to 20 million couples.

What lies beneath the benign move, however, is not simply the logic of social cause but the Chinese government’s foreseeing of the perilous future of the country’s economic growth. Aimed at preventing population explosion and warding off unsustainable burden on the economy, the one-child policy was touted as critical to national interest.

Preventing 400 million births, however, created human rights violations such as forced abortions, and skewed the gender balance (118 boys: 100 girls). Now, the government is concerned about the state of human capital from the aging population and diminishing workforce. The engine of growth could eventually slow down, and perhaps come to a halt, if the policy was not tweaked. Moreover, the country has ambitious plans to fuel indigenous innovation and propel national champions in strategic sectors of economy, which requires bolstering a young, healthy workforce.

Therefore, a stream of fresh water is required to water the desert-turning human capital base. In fact, this policy change fits in the overarching framework of the government’s zealous pursuit of economic growth which its policy experimentations, though conceived with rational calculations, have treated citizens as mere pawns on the chessboard of economy.

Domestic Consumption

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the Chinese Community Party (CCP) became convinced that its model of export-based economic growth was capricious. The model of consumption-based growth stirred the strategic rumination of CCP that felt a need to tap the consumption potential of its own people, numbering over 1 billion, by removing the hurdles that had forced them to save up money. Bolstering social security and eliminating hukou, the household registration system which is unjust to migrants in urban areas, became imperative for consumption.

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Green Development

China’s economic growth trajectory is stupendous. Emerging as the second largest economy and the largest manufacturing and biggest trading nation, China sustained an annual average GDP growth rate of 10.5 percent between 2001 and 2010 and 9.7 percent between 1979 and 2009. Cresting on the steady wave of growth, however, it brought in its trail heavy haze and smog, and pollution of water and soil, which spawned respiratory diseases and threatened life expectancy, apart from forming cancer villages and depriving over 300 million people of safe drinking water.

Realizing that sustainable economic growth demands environmental integrity and a healthy workforce, achieving green development is now a key priority of the Chinese leadership. The upshot is that growth is still the guiding mantra of China’s development model.

Though the economic reforms might have contributed to lifting out over 500 million people over the past 30 years, inequality in  income, asset ownership, education, and health is quite considerable in the country, as highlighted in the report “China 2030,” jointly authored by the World Bank and Development Research Center of the State Council, China. While the Chinese leadership has stated that its focus will be on the “quality” of growth, which is linked to socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable growth, the test lies in the tenacity of policy that places human development on its centerpiece.

Romi Jain is a published poet, novelist, and Vice President of the Indian Journal of Asian Affairs. She did her MBA from San Francisco, California, and has worked as a marketing professional with a Silicon Valley-based company. Her creative works include: The Storm Within (2008; 2011), Poetry! You Resurrect Me (2011) and Voices of Rocks in the Dusk (2012). Her poems have appeared in international anthologies and in literary journals such as Off the Coast; Touch: The Journal of Healing; The Journal of Poetry Society; Aquill Relle Magazine; Munyori Literary Journal; and The Tower Journal. Read other articles by Romi.