Sunday, 11 September 2011

China and India: How they are managing population issue? (Part I)

                                                                                                                              Prof. Devendra kothari

The Economist, a widely circulated reliable weekly news magazine, in its Special Report on China dated June 25, 2011 noted that “At the height of the Qing dynasty, back in the 1700s, China enjoyed a golden age. It was a shengshi, an age of prosperity”.  Now it is said that another shengshi has arrived.  The Economist writes further that “last year China became the world’s biggest manufacturer, displacing America from a position it had held for more than a century. In less than a decade it could become the world’s largest economy”. It is because three most important words in the last decade was not “war on terror” but “made in China”, as stated recently by Lionel Barber in the Financial Times. And we are again agape.    

About thirty years ago, China was behind India in the economic prosperity as well as quality of life indicators. To day, it is ahead. For example, life expectancy at birth in China is now 74 years versus 64 years in India. The corresponding figures for another summary index that is infant mortality rate (infant deaths/1000 births) are 22 and 53, respectively. As far as the Gross National Income per Capita based on the Purchasing Power Parity is concerned, it was $2960 for India compared with $6020 for China in 2008[1].

Now question arises why China is able to achieve an outstanding overall progress in a shortest possible time. In the eyes of most of us including majority of Chinese it is mainly due to authoritarianism that enables China to make decisions efficiently, organize effectively and concentrate resources to accomplish large undertakings. If that was the only reason then why erstwhile Communist USSR with vast natural resources could not achieve the same. No doubt, the authoritarianism might have played an important role but China’s effective and timely socio-economic policies especially demographic management has played a decisive role  for its present status.    This post presents the facts and comparison of population between China and India and their effects.

China and India are the most populous countries in the world, but they have taken very different approaches to manage population issue. As the world's population is approximately 6,943 million, China represents around a full 20% of the world's population so one in every five people on the planet is a resident of China. On the other hand, with more than 1.2 billion people, India now contains about 17.5% (i.e., every sixth person in the world is an Indian) of humanity. The United Nations[2] has estimated that the Indian population grew at an annual rate of 1.43% during 2005-10. China registered a much lower annual growth rate of population (0.51%) during the corresponding period. In fact, the growth rate of China is now very much comparable to that of the developed countries.  Demographers expect India's population to surpass the population of China, currently the most populous country in the world, by 2025. At that time, India is expected to have a population of more than 1.46 billion while China’s population forecast to be at its peak of 1.39 billion and will begin to drop in subsequent years (see Table 1). Based on analysis of recent data, however, the author came to the conclusion that India may take over China in the next 9-10 years, latest  by 2020.

Table 1: China and India: Trends in population, growth and density 1991-2050
(in million)
Annual population growth (In %)
(in million)
Annual population growth (In %))
Source: United Nations. 2010. World Population Prospects.  New York, United Nations Secretariat

Government family planning services in China became available as a part of maternal and child health in the early fifties as it happened in India. As the result of falling death rates, the population growth rate rose to 2.7%, leading to more than 260 million additional people by 1970. Rapid growth, however, put considerable strain on the government’s efforts to meet the needs of its people. The fourth five year plan in 1970 included, for the first time, targets for population growth rate. Contraceptive and abortion services were extended into the rural areas, and there was extensive promotion of later marriage, longer intervals between births, and smaller families.

In the late seventies, it was quickly realized that with half of the population under the age of 21, further growth was inevitable even if each family was quite small. Some drastic measures are needed. The “One Child Policy” was the answer to that concern and  the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping announced it  in 1979 to limit China’s population growth[3]. The policy limits couples to one child. Fines, pressures to abort a pregnancy, and even forced sterilization accompanied second or subsequent pregnancies. It is not an all-encompassing rule because it has always been restricted to ethnic Han Chinese living in urban areas. Citizens living in rural areas and minorities living in China are not subject to the law.

However, the one child policy has caused a disdain for female infants; abortion, neglect, abandonment, and even infanticide have been known to occur to female infants. The result of such measures has resulted in the disparate ratio of 114 boys for every 100 girls among babies from birth through children four years of age. Normally, 105 males are naturally born for every 100 females[4].

China's total fertility rate is 1.6 in the year 2010, which means that, on average, each woman gives birth to 1.6 children throughout her life. The necessary total fertility rate to initiate the process of population stabilization is 2.1.  In spite of this, China proclaimed that it will continue its one child policy. However, some concessions have been made. Some new measures have been introduce in the family planning to make is pro-clients. Although IUDs, sterilization, and abortion are China's most popular forms of birth control; over the past ten years, China has provided more education and support for alternative birth control methods as well as adopted successful frameworks from other countries to provide family planning services[5] .

China's latest census (2010) data show the nation's population is aging rapidly[6]. This means a shrinking labor force which could stutter the nation's economic growth. Is it time to revise China's one-child plan? It is argued that when the Chinese government launched the world's biggest demographic experiment in 1979, it said it would take about 30 years to tame the nation's explosive population growth once encouraged by Chairman Mao Zedong. China appears to have achieved that goal: Initial census results show that China's population, the world's largest, rose to 1.34 billion in 2010 from 1.27 billion in 2000. That puts average annual growth at 0.57% over the decade, down from 1.07% in 1990-2000.

Yet China's leaders vowed again recently to maintain the one-child policy. This despite the latest census results and a decade-long campaign by an informal advocacy group of top Chinese academics and former officials who have risked their careers to argue the policy is based on flawed science and vested bureaucratic interests[7].

However, recently, Chinese President Hu Jintao told a meeting of top party leaders that China would "stick to and improve its current family-planning policy and maintain a low birth rate," the official Xinhua news agency reported. The question arises why Chinese leadership is arguing in favor of maintaining one child policy “indefinitely”? To some observers in an insecure West, the balance of global power is shifting inexorably in China’s favor. Recent book titles capture the mood: “In the Jaws of the Dragon: America’s Fate in the Coming Era of Chinese Hegemony” (by Eamonn Fingleton, 2008); “When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New global Order” (by Martin Jacques, 2009); “The Beijing Consequences: How China’s Authoritarian Model will Dominate the Twenty-First Century” (by Stefan Halper, 2010).

To achieve the further mileage or achieve the status of world power, the Chinese policy makers strongly believe that a lower fertility rate is beneficial for further economic and social development in China. The official view relies to a large extent on the theory, put forward by Thomas Malthus in 1798, that China has insufficient land and natural resources to support its population. And the Chinese leaders give credit to the policy which so far helped in preventing 400 million births, helping to lift the country out of poverty and limit its carbon emissions as well as improve the quality of life and governance.  And as such, these are no strong reasons why it should be abandoned at this stage. I will like to summarize the situation in China in a Chinese saying:  "It's easier to get on a tiger than to get off it."

The next blog discusses what India could learn from the Chinese experiment.

[1] Population Reference Bureau, 2010

[2] Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat,  
World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision

[3] It is interesting to explore why Chinese policy makers announced the one child policy when its population growth was declining very fast (see Table 1).
[4] It is interesting to note that even without such harsh measures, the child sex ratio in India has increased significantly from 108 boys for every 100 girls in 2001 to 110 in 2011 in age group 0-6 years. 
[5] In March 1998, a high level delegation from China consisting of senior members of the State Family Planning Commission and experts participated in the Jaipur Meet to discuss as to how family planning program could be implemented looking to the needs of clients.  The delegation also saw the implementation of “Vikalp framework” in the Dausa district of Rajasthan, which was conceptualized by the author to provide services looking to the needs of clients.  For details, see” Indo-China Dialogue on Managing the Transition to Quality of Care: A report of the meeting hosted by the IIHMR, Jaipur in collaboration with the Ford Foundation China, the Ford Foundation, New Delhi, the Population Council, New York and the University of Michigan,  1999 (The copy could be obtained from the Population Council, New York). The author played an important role in organizing the Jaipur Meet.

[6] The census shows that people over the age of 60 now account for 13.3% of China's population, compared to 10.3% in 2000. And the reserve of future workers has dwindled: People under 14 years now make up 16.6% of the population, down from 23% 10 years ago.

[7]Dr.  Gu Baochang, a professor of demography at Renmin University in Beijing, former adviser to the Family Planning Commission and informal leader of the advocacy group, says that changing the policy is "so necessary demographically, and so wise politically. But resistance was so strong—much stronger than we had thought."  (Based on the informal discussion with Dr. Baochang).  The author had an opportunity to discuss the issue with Dr. Baochang when he accompanied to the delegation from China to participate in the Jaipur Meet held in March  1998 (for details see: footnote No. 
5) .

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