By GEOFFREY YORK
Toronto Globe and Mail
March 12, 2008
Top population official Zhang Weiqing put an abrupt halt to the growing rumors that China was considering an overhaul of the much-criticized policy, which prohibits most urban couples from having more than one child.
Nearly 200 million people are entering child-bearing age in the next 10 years, and China would face the threat of instability if it allowed these people to have as many children as they want, Zhang said.
"Given such a large population base, there would be major fluctuations in population growth if we abandoned the one-child rule now," he said. "It would cause serious problems and add extra pressure on social and economic development."
He said the government might be willing to "adjust" its policy, but only after the expected "birth peak" has ended in the final years of the next decade.
Zhang, head of the State Population and Family Planning Commission, made the comments in an interview published in a front-page article in China Daily, a state-owned propaganda newspaper.
The article seemed intended to crush the persistent rumors that China might be contemplating changes to its one-child rule. A spate of recent reports had suggested that a change was likely. One official had been quoted as saying that "relevant departments are considering this."
Zhang rejected any hint of a policy change in the next decade. "The current family planning policy, formed as a result of gradual changes in the past two decades, has proved compatible with national conditions," he said. "So it has to be kept unchanged at this time to ensure stable and balanced population growth."
Zhang argued that the policy is not as bad as some people believe, since the strict one-child limit is imposed on only 36 percent of the population -- those living in bigger cities. A further 53 percent of the population, mostly those living in rural areas, are allowed to have a second child if their first is a girl, and another 11 percent (mostly ethnic minorities) can have two or more children.
The one-child policy has been widely criticized by human-rights activists, who say it has led to forced abortions, sterilizations and other abuses.
Within China, many experts have voiced worries that the policy has worsened the gender imbalance and the rapid aging of society. Many regions are struggling with a surplus of unmarried men because the one-child policy and the traditional preference for male children have encouraged couples to abort female fetuses.
China is projected to have 30 million excess men of marriageable age by the end of the next decade, and there are fears that this surplus could lead to social instability and crime.
The one-child policy is also provoking resentment from urban couples who see celebrities and wealthy couples exempting themselves from the limit by paying fines or bribing officials.
China says the policy is necessary to control its population, already the biggest on earth. Its current population of 1.3 billion, which is still growing by 16 to 17 million people annually, is expected to peak at 1.5 billion within the next two decades.
The policy has prevented an additional 400 million births since it was introduced in the late 1970s, Chinese officials say.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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