Geopolitics

China: The Public's Right To Speak Up On Family Planning Policy

The CCP is not used to sharing the decision-making role with the public, but that may be exactly what all sides need to try to encourage more Chinese people to have babies.

The three-child policy represents a major readjustment of China’s birth control principle.
The three-child policy represents a major readjustment of China’s birth control principle.
Economic Observer Editorial

-Analysis-

BEIJING — On May 31st, China announced its new so-called "three-child policy" that allows couples to have three children. The policy was announced just 20 days after the release of the results of the Seventh National Population Census. They show the country's trend of an aging population is worsening, with only 12 million new births recorded in 2020, the lowest since 1960. This isn't a coincidence.

As the meeting minutes of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) state, the policy is to further optimize the relevant supporting measures of family planning guidelines, to improve the population structure, and to implement a national strategy by actively respond to the demographic aging, so as to maintain the advantages of the country's human resource endowment.

Even though this still is far from responding to the public's expectation of a full easing of a couples' birth limit, the three-child policy represents nonetheless a major readjustment of China's birth control principle.

It's worth pointing out that not only are couples now allowed to have three children instead of two, the National Health Commission which is in charge of family planning, pointed out that complaints over policy issues such as marriage, child-raising and education should also be addressed. This includes providing young people with guidance on family and marriage values, advocacy to correct bad wedding customs such as the expectation of a very high dowry, a universal childcare system, promotion of educational equity, supply of high-quality educational resources and reduction of education costs.

We believe the public should have a full say.

Indeed, the above-mentioned issues are all well-noted "pain points' that affect young people's willingness to have babies. Therefore, the adjustment in tackling these problems can be regarded as a comprehensive reflection on parenting policies.

The Politburo meeting proposed that by improving maternity leave and the insurance system, by strengthening supporting measures in taxation and housing, and by protecting the legal rights and interests of women in employment, the aim of establishing a more complete maternity protection network can be achieved. And the beneficiaries should include all families from one child to two or three children.

The relevant policy details have not yet been announced, but we believe that the public should have a full say in this. These policies concern all those who are going to be parents and those who will be parents in the future, and will ultimately concern every family. Hence, the government's decision-making agencies ought to listen to the public's expression of their interests. This involves a process of open discussion and full interaction. Unless there exists a positive response and participation from the public, the effectiveness of the policy may be greatly compromised.

Meanwhile, tackling the above issues should be cohesively and organically combined, rather than being advanced individually by each relevant department. The family planning policy's complexity implies taking into consideration the various social and economic aspects, including human resources, social security, finance and taxation, education, and housing.

Only 12 million new births were recorded in 2020, the lowest since 1960 — Photo: Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Any link in the chain which fails to keep up with changes and demand may create loopholes in this birth protection network. In the past, perhaps because family planning is a sensitive and complicated issue, the related governmental departments had not been enthusiastic to hear the public's opinions. Yet, going from allowing couples to have two children if one of the couple is a single child him or herself, to then allowing two children, and then the currently three children, the policy has always provoked lively debates between the authorities and the people. Objectively, it is these discussions that accelerated the announcement of the government's policies.

This is all the more reason that the supporting measures of the three-child policy should absorb past experience, and respond to the public's demands in a realistic manner based on accurate research. This will make up for shortcomings in all these areas linked to reproduction to child-raising, and thus help reduce parenting anxiety. There has been no shortage of experts and scholars with suggestions and policy advice. For example, one expert suggested that a fertility fund should be levied, while another from the entrepreneurial sphere said that "one should complete the most basic reproductive responsibility by giving birth to two children before he or she has the right to use contraceptive products', and so on.

We welcome constructive opinions based on rationality, however, it should be said that some of these suggestions have gone to the opposite pole of a serious marital and childbirth policy.

The basic feature of this rhetoric is that many don't regard child-bearing as a basic right, but more as a tool for achieving economic and social purposes. Based on this, a punishment and reward mechanism is set. We believe that any good family planning policy ought to be based on respecting peoples' fundamental rights so that each family can freely make their own choice.

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Geopolitics

Erdogan And Boris Johnson: A New Global Power Duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.

Johnson and Erdogan in NYC on Sept. 20

Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung

-Analysis-

BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.

Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.

Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.

What will Aukus mean for NATO?

Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.

The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting

Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.

"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."

Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum

Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.

But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.

Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA

Erdogan’s EU wish list

It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.

Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.

Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU

Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.

 Turkey's second largest export market

The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.

At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."

After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.

Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.

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