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Is China Cooking The Books On Its Census Data?

Editorial: The population may be aging even worse than authorities admit in the latest 10-year census. Why China urgently needs to change its birth control policy.

Beijing grandmother and grandson (WestZest)
Beijing grandmother and grandson (WestZest)
Yi Fuxien

China's just released 10-year census shows the country's population total at 1.3397 billion people. Compared with the last census conducted in 2000, the 2010 numbers show that the population grew by 73.9 million people, an average growth rate of 0.57%, which is a 0.5% drop in growth from the previous 10-year period.

The fact that the population's average growth rate has dropped by almost half over the past decade would in itself be shocking. But a closer look at the numbers raises doubts as to whether China really does have 1.3397 billion inhabitants.

According to the life expectancy table, the death rate per year of the under-55 age group is 0.22%. This means the figure of 933.98 million from the 2000 Census for the 15-59 age group should be re-adjusted to around 913.43 million. Such an adjustment results in a 2.87% growth rate, which brings the total current population to 1.31 billion. And if the same 2.87% growth rate is applied to other age groups, the true population of China stands at around 1.3 billion.

Reconfirmation of the super low birth rate

To keep a society sustainable, the birth rate needs to be kept around at 2.3 children per female inhabitant. But all the objective surveys, including that of the 2000 census and the 1% sampling survey of 2001, show that since the mid-1990's the birth rate in China has been stuck around 1.3.

The Family Planning Council and the demographers refused to accept that the birth rate was so low and have been using all kinds of mathematical models to "revise" the birth rate figure to 1.8. As a result, China's population policy of restricting the number of children couples can have, has not been adjusted.

The birth rate findings of the sixth General Census should set off alarms for China to reform its population policy. The National Bureau of Statistics has not mentioned a precise birth rate figure, though it is possible to come up with a rough estimate using other statistics.

For instance, if the average child-bearing age of a woman is 25-years-old and the 0-14 age group makes up 16.6% of the population, then the mothers of the 222 million 0-14 years old should had been born between 1971-1985. The 2000 census put that sector of female population at 154 million. It means the average birth rate from 1996 to 2010 is in fact only around 1.44.

The demographic crisis in the making

According to a United Nations forecast in 2008, the over-60 and over-65 age groups in China were expected to account for 12.3% and 8.2% of the population respectively in 2010, against 7.5% and 4.9% in India.

The new census demonstrates, however, that China's population is aging even faster than expected. According to the survey, over-60 and over-65 make up 13.26% and 8.87% of the population.

The new Census also revealed that the imbalance between the ratio of boys to girls is also still increasing. The sex ratio in 2010 was 118.06, which is 1.2% more than 2000.

Based on the data of the 2000 census as well as the new census, China's comprehensive national strength, from the viewpoint of its demographic structure, is currently at a historical peak. The working-age group of those 15-64 years, has reached almost 1 billion people, an all-time high, with the elderly dependency ratio less than 12%, and the general elderly dependency (ratio of the non-labor population to labor population) only 34%. In other words, China has never been less burdened by a non-labor population.

But again from the viewpoint of the demographical structure, China is set to repeat Japan's economic recession experience of the 1990s. The difference is Japan became rich before growing old, while China is growing old before even getting rich. The average GDP of Japan today is above $40,000, while it is still just $4,000 in China.

Labor, universities and military all face major consequences

Also, perhaps more importantly, China's labor age group of the 15-64 years old will reach its peak in 2013, and then start to decrease. Changes to the 19-22 years old age group are key to a country's demographic health, because they are the most active part of the population and what business needs most. In 2009, this age group attained an historical high of 100 million but will rapidly decrease to 58 million by 2019, a drop of 43% over just 10 years.

This could result in serious labor shortages, the withdrawal of foreign companies, and a drop in university candidates. In 2009, the number of university applicants had already decreased by 400,000. In 2010, it decreased by 700,000. Numerous universities could be forced into bankruptcy. In terms of national defense, the percentage of the eligible male population drafted into the army could rise to 19% from 10% at present.

The sixth General Census has proved once again that the Chinese birth rate is extremely low, and that the ratio difference of boys to girls continues to widen. The Family Planning Council and demographers need to stop ignoring the facts and put the revision of China's population policy onto the fast track. A new policy needs to be pro-active in increasing the birth rate, not just relaxing the limit to allow couples to have more than one child.

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Utter Pessimism, What Israelis And Palestinians Share In Common

Right now, according to a joint survey of Israelis and Palestinians, hopes for a peaceful solution of coexistence simply don't exist. The recent spate of violence is confirmation of the deepest kind of pessimism on both sides for any solution other than domination of the other.

An old Palestinian protester waves Palestinian flag while he confronts the Israeli soldiers during the demonstration against Israeli settlements in the village of Beit Dajan near the West Bank city of Nablus.

A Palestinian protester confronts Israeli soldiers during the demonstration against Israeli settlements in the West Bank village of Beit Dajan on Jan. 6.

Pierre Haski


PARIS — Just before the latest outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, a survey of public opinion among the two peoples provided a key to understanding the current situation unfolding before our eyes.

It was a joint study, entitled "Palestinian-Israeli Pulse", carried out by two research centers, one Israeli, the other Palestinian, which for years have been regularly asking the same questions to both sides.

The result is disastrous: not only is the support for the two-state solution — Israel and Palestine side by side — at its lowest point in two decades, but there is now a significant share of opinion on both sides that favors a "non-democratic" solution, i.e., a single state controlled by either the Israelis or Palestinians.

This captures the absolute sense of pessimism commonly felt regarding the chances of the two-state option ever being realized, which currently appears to be our grim reality today. But the results are also an expression of the growing acceptance on both sides that it is inconceivable for either state to live without dominating the other — and therefore impossible to live in peace.

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