Chinese officials are drawing up plans to further loosen birth restrictions and transition toward policies that explicitly encourage childbirth, according to people familiar with the matter, reflecting increased urgency in Beijing as economic growth slows and China’s population mix skews older.
Policy makers are discussing the possibility of fully doing away with birth restrictions by 2025, the end of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s current five-year economic plan, according to one of the people. According to that person, China will likely begin by eliminating birth restrictions in provinces where the birthrate is the lowest before enacting nationwide changes.
The party said late last month that it would allow all couples to have as many as three children, weeks after a once-in-a-decade census showed China, the world’s most populous nation, on the cusp of a historic downturn in its population.
Last month, Chinese leader Xi Jinping told senior party officials that he regards China’s aging population as a threat to national security, calling on senior officials to address the challenge, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
Any loosening of restrictions would likely be seen first in China’s economically depressed northeast, a region that the country’s health authorities hinted in February could take the lead in scrapping all remaining birth restrictions.
China’s three northeastern provinces, regarded as its rust belt, helped kick-start China’s industrialization in the 1950s but were badly hit by the country’s shift to a market economy in the 1990s and now have some of the lowest birthrates in the nation. The new census figures show the population in the northeastern provinces dropping by 1.2% over the past decade.
Some local governments in the region have taken the lead in adopting more aggressive policies in an effort to boost fertility rates. Heilongjiang province, which borders far-eastern Russia, said that couples in 18 of its cities could have a third child in 2016—five years before the same policy was introduced nationwide.
In neighboring Jilin province, government researchers argued in a February report that the province should draft plans to end all birth limits as soon as possible.
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