How One-Child China Can Become Three-Child China

Social policy and mentality both must change for China to face its looming demographic crisis. Beijing's recent decision to loosen its one-child policy is just a start.

Kids playing in Guizhou in southwestern China
Kids playing in Guizhou in southwestern China
Liang Jianzhang, Huang Wenzheng and He Yafu

The recent third plenary session of the Chinese Communist Party has included a major break from China’s one-child policy that has long limited the number of children in each family. From now on when at least one parent of a couple is an only child, they will be allowed to have two children. Chinese leaders apparently now understand how the nation's low birthrate is a real threat to China's economy and society.

According to data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, China currently has a birthrate of 1.2 children per woman. Even if the control over births is fully liberalized, birthrate will still not reach the 2.2 level that is required to maintain the so-called "population replacement" level.

Without policies that actually encourage childbearing, this is what looms in China's future: Youth population decreases, the labor force shrinks, the economy slides into the doldrums, financial health deteriorates, innovation is scarce. In other words, China will be plagued by a geriatric economy like that which currently haunts Japan and several southern European countries.

Thus, we propose the establishment of a Two Children Day.

In the face of the risk of a low fertility rate, some developed countries spare no effort in encouraging childbearing, though often with little success. The East Asian countries that share cultural similarities with China are the places facing the most serious problems.

Looking East and West

Japan and South Korea’s birthrates are around 1.3, while in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the number drops to a mere 1.0. Even though these countries’ governments regard encouraging childbirth as a top priority, it still proves difficult to achieve as families in modern society face both the high costs of raising children and the opportunities to pursue occupational and recreational goals instead.

In Hohhot, north-central China — Photo: Athena Lao

The situation is even gloomier in China. Not only do Chinese urban households face more serious living and professional pressures than in other countries — the long decades of birth control propaganda have also distorted people’s ideas about having children. A lot of people think that it’s abnormal to have two children, and that not having a second child is a contribution to the nation.

Starting a few years ago, places such as Shanghai already allowed couples who are both only children to have two children; however only 20% of eligible couples had two offspring, and Shanghai’s birthrate has dropped to lower than 0.8%.

It is therefore necessary that the poisonous notion that “population is a burden” be forgotten, so that people understand that having two or three children is good for both a family and for society in general. In Russia, for example, the importance of population size and the promotion of childbirth is central to national policy. Russian President Vladimir Putin declared in his State of the Union speech that every Russian family should have at least three children.

Since some families will have only one child and some won’t have any at all, encouraging each family to have two children will never be enough to raise the fertility rate to the replacement level. We therefore propose that after full relaxation of its birth control policy, China should further encourage multiple births so as to restore Chinese families’ normal concept of childbearing and maintain a normal national reproduction state.

In Shanghai — Photo: Joan Vila

Make that 3!

This is to say having two or three children should be common. As a matter of fact, giving a child a sibling is the greatest gift parents can give. This is why we suggest the establishment, on February 2, each year, of a Two Children Day. Were the control over births eased fully in the future, why not even a Three Children Day?

As various countries’ experiences show, once the birthrate drops, it’s extremely difficult to raise it again. Families don’t keep on having children just because the government encourages it. For instance, France has a long history of encouraging childbearing, but the effect is still inadequate. Currently France has a fertility rate of around 2.0 which is a lot higher than that of China — but still insufficient for population replacement.

Finally the most important of all is the implementation of practical policies to ease the pressure on young couples raising children, such as the implementation of 15-year compulsory education starting from kindergarten to secondary school. These policies should not be addressed to only the urban population but given universal coverage, because most youngsters from China’s rural areas work in the cities today. They face even greater child-raising pressure and their willingness to have children is as low as that of urban dwellers.

All in all, supportive economic policies are imperative so that China’s new family planning policy can be effective. Meanwhile, measures such as setting up a Two Children Day are essential to help shift people’s mentality and raise social awareness.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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