Sam Hargadine, ContributorLast Modified: 16:04 p.m. DST, 19 March 2013
China’s one child policy was instituted in 1979 and has underdone modest reforms in the three decades since. However during this month’s National People’s Congress, China’s legislature approved a radical reshuffle over the bureaucratic office in charge of the policy. A sign the rule may soon be scrapped.
On 10 March, it was announced that the family planning office would be merged with the health ministry to create a new super agency, the Health and Family Planning Commission. By routing decisions through the health ministry, the effect is likely to curb the influence of one-child bureaucrats on the national level.
According to Zuo Xuejin of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, the combining of the two offices will weaken the family planning wing because health ministry officials are far more competent. As the two agencies combine, health officials will likely crowd out once all-powerful bureaucrats from the family planning office.
This change is gradual and behind the scenes, indicating a trend in itself for the new Presidency of Xi Jinping. The President understands that the Communist Party’s rule is partly owed to a perception of stability and indefatigability. Radical changes, such as a quick scrapping of the one child policy, could unleash a call for even greater reforms in areas more sensitive to one party rule. An outcome Mr. Xi hopes to avoid.
In actuality only 35.9 percent of China’s population is subject to one-child restrictions. These Chinese are largely urban and therefore more likely to be middle class. Ethnic minorities, rural households, and households where both parents are only children are allowed more than one child. Specific to China’s largest and wealthiest city, Shanghai, the fertility rate has dipped to 0.7 births/woman, one of the lowest rates in the world.
In South Korea and Japan the fertility rates are well below replacement, at 1.21 and 1.27 respectively. Hong Kong and Macau round out the bottom of league tables at 0.97 and 0.91. This suggests that the average urban Mainland home will follow this demographic trend. Thus asserts Mr. Zuo, the policy is simply not needed anymore.
The likely course of action will be a gradual relaxation of enforcement rather than outright repeal. Already provincial level governments largely enforce the policy, further reducing the influence of family planning mandarins in Beijing.
As is often the case in China, change comes slowly. Because demographic trends will likely make one-child homes a preferred choice on the mainland as it has with China’s neighbors, a radical shift does the government little good. Slow and steady wins the race – at least so thinks Mr. Xi.Follow Sam Hargadine on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributor: @SamHargadine
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