In one of its editorials entitled “Demography: Denying its fragility will not help China”, Le Monde explains why the world’s most populous country has seen its population decline for the first time in 61 years, despite the fact that its one child restrictive policy has been removed.
Published on January 24, 2023 at 11h46 Time to 2 min. Lire en français
The superiority of the Chinese political system, according to its leaders and supporters, is that it is better able to think in the long term than democracies. However, one essential area seems to be an exception, and even demonstrates the opposite: demography. While the Chinese authorities have just acknowledged that the world’s most populous country began to see its population decline in 2022, the first time this has happened in 61 years, they minimize the phenomenon by pretending to believe that it is linked to Covid-19. So there is nothing to worry about. Read more Subscribers only China faces unprecedented population decline
But everything points in the opposite direction. The end of the one-child policy has not led to a baby boom, quite the contrary. The fertility rate is declining every year and is even lower than it was during the 35 years (1979-2015) that this measure lasted. As a result, according to the UN, China could lose about half its population by the end of the century.
China is by no means an exception. It is following the same trajectory as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. But unlike these countries, the subject is not publicly debated in China. It is even largely denied by the authorities. This is because demographic decline is a major challenge for Xi Jinping. He stated at the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2017 that “East, West, South, North and Center, the party leads everything.” The decline in fertility proves that this is not the case. In fact, we should be happy about it. And even though this is not only due to the political nature of the regime, since democracies are also confronted with this problem, it makes the “Chinese dream” even more inaccessible. Read more Subscribers only In China, women are hesitant to have children: ‘If I had one to raise, I would be poor’
Declining economic growth
The more the years go by, the harder it will be for China to innovate. Not only because fewer and fewer young people will be entering the labor market, but also because social spending to meet the needs of an aging population will jump. A shrinking population is not necessarily a catastrophe. But it does force governments to make painful choices to tackle unpopular issues such as extending the working life or increasing immigration. China is in no way prepared for this and, contrary to what it claims, its political system is a liability.
By promising only a bright future and publishing only statistics that are favorable to the regime, the Chinese Communist Party is lying to the population and concealing the truth. Boosted by a quarter century of exceptional economic growth, the party is convinced that its past successes guarantee a bright future, probably wrongly so.
Since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, economic growth has been trending downward. In 2022, China even recorded lower growth than its neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Now seen as a rival by many Western countries, the country faces a combination of geostrategic challenges, economic imbalances and significant social problems. This is not good news for China, led by a soon-to-be septuagenarian who intends to stay in power for another 10 or 15 years. But the regime becoming too strained may not be good news for the rest of the world either.