Greater clarity needed in dip in Chinese population - GulfToday

Greater clarity needed in dip in Chinese population

People walk along Nanjing Pedestrian Road, a main shopping area in Shanghai. Reuters

People walk along Nanjing Pedestrian Road, a main shopping area in Shanghai. Reuters

Whatever happens in China, is of huge interest to the rest of the world, whether it is the issue of COVID or the slowing down of the economy. The latest issue of concern for the international China-watchers is the decline in Chinese population in 2022, for the first time in 61 years. The last time there was a dip in Chinese population was in 1961, at the end of Mao’s disastrous Great Forward Leap to change agricultural production. In 1961, not many in the world were keen to know about it because China was a closed economy under the rule of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

Though China is still ruled by CPC in 2022, today the most populous country in the world is integrated with the global economy, and cheap Chinese labour and the opening of the Chinese economy has made the country the shop floor of the world. The fear of economists is that if the Chinese workforce shrinks, then the world would have to look for cheap labour elsewhere in the world. Also, Chinese economy has proved to be efficient in turning out the goods.

And growth in Chinese economy has helped in global economic growth as well. A fall in Chinese economic growth has a negative impact on global economic growth. And there is also discussion of increase in the segment of aged people in Chinese society and how it would be a problem for the government in Beijing in providing for them as well as for maintaining economic activity.

While the international view of the decline in Chinese population growth has been one of gloom, the Chinese authorities see it as a challenge as well as a long-term phenomenon. The Chinese officials have said that since 1992 Chinese population growth has fallen below the standard replacement rate of 2.1 and that decline in population growth rate has been a long-term one.

The Chinese also feel that the China’s population trend is following that of other developed economies like Europe, America and Japan, and they agree that does pose a challenge in the future. But they do not see it as an immediate challenge because they said that right now the demand for labour exceeds supply. That is, there are more workers in China and less jobs. So China’s economic growth will not be affected for a few more years.

But the actual facts of the Chinese population show an interesting fact. The Chinese population has reduced by 850,000 in 2022 compared to 2021, and the total Chinese population has thus been reduced to 1.4 billion. It needs to be explained how the reduction in population of 850,000 had occurred in a single year. Is it due to the COVID epidemic of 2020 and 2021? The general statement that has been given out by the Chinese authorities is that the birth rate is lower than the death rate.

If we compare that the 1961 dip in the population figure was due to the huge famine which resulted from the Great Leap Forward, then would it be right to infer that 2022 reduction in population figure is partially due to COVID? Experts have said that the birth rates have fallen drastically because there were fewer marriages in the COVID years 2020 and 2021 due to strict quarantine, and couples did not want to opt for children as well.

This is indeed a plausible answer. The other part is whether more people have died in 2022 and how many of them have due to COVID. If COVID is indeed the main factor for the fall in birth rates and rise in death rates, then it cannot be seen as a general pattern of population decline. There is need for greater clarity about the figure of 850,000 in 2022.

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