China insists its population GREW in 2020 – without providing numbers – following reports the country had seen its first decline in decades

  • Beijing did not provide figures to back up its claim ahead of census publication
  • Comes after report that it delayed census because population data looked bleak
  • Communists are concerned of implications if their 1.4 billion country is shrinking
  • It could mean losing the No.1 status to its nuclear and industrial rival India 

China has insisted its population grew last year following reports that the latest census was being delayed because it had found a decline.

The Communist Party did not provide a figure on Thursday, simply stating: ‘According to our understanding, in 2020, China’s population continued to grow.’

It follows a report in The Financial Times that Beijing had delayed publication of the census – completed in December – because party officials were frantically trying to decide how to report that the population of 1.4 billion was shrinking.

Beijing would resent to lose its status as the world’s most populous country, particularly to its nuclear and industrial rival India, which could overtake China as early as this year pending the full publication of the census. 

India and China’s projected population growth according to the United Nations – World Population Prospects. It shows a steady decline for China over the next few decades, while India will continue to increase until at least 2060

China’s population has long been expected to peak in the coming decades and decline in line with trends in other Asian countries. But an outright fall so early would increase challenges for leaders who are trying to shore up economic growth and raise incomes. 

Beijing has failed to tackle its falling birth rate despite relaxing its strict family planning policy five years ago to allow everyone to have at least two children.

Any fall in growth would prompt fears that the country is heading into an irreversible decline. 

The latest Chinese census, was due for publication earlier this month, but has been delayed for unexplained reasons.   

The population figure is very sensitive and will not be published until government departments have a consensus on the data and its implications, sources told the FT.

‘If China confirms such a decline, it would be a big deal,’ said Zhiwei Zhang, the Shenzhen-based chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management.

‘The consensus expects China’s population to peak at 2027, based on the projection made by the United Nations. This would be much earlier than the market and policy makers expected.’

No explanation has been given for the delay in announcing the result, though the bureau said this month that more preparatory work was needed.

Delhi poses a threat to China’s status as the world’s main producer of goods and has put its foot forward to forge trade deals with newly-liberated Brexit Britain.

Chinese students queuing for their vaccines at the university in Wuhan on Tuesday. The Communist Party will be keen to impose measures to boost the population before falling into an irreversible decline with an ageing populace

India, with a vibrant democracy based on the British tradition, is increasingly attractive to investors who are concerned by China’s shady human rights record.

The United Nations projects India’s population will continue to grow well into the 2050s as people are much younger on average than in China.  

In recent months, China’s state media have been increasingly bleak, saying the population may start to shrink in the next few years.

In 2016, China scrapped a decades-long one-child policy in the hope of boosting the number of babies, replacing the measure with a two-child policy.

At the time, it also set a target to boost its population to about 1.42 billion by 2020, from 1.34 billion in 2010.

But the birth rate has continued to decline.

That is partly because urban couples, particularly those born after 1990, value their independence and careers more than raising a family, despite parental pressure to have children.

Smoke billows from a chimney in northern India. The nuclear-armed industrial powerhouse wants to challenge China to strike trade deals with the developed world

Rising living costs in major cities, where large populations lead to the birth of a huge number of babies, have also deterred couples.

‘China would likely have to relax the birth control policy completely and put off the retirement age faster,’ Zhang said.

Falling birth rates and a fast greying society will add pressure on the working-age population and hit productivity.

‘Our projections using the pre-census figures already suggested that the workforce would be declining by 0.5% each year by 2030, with a similar impact on GDP,’ Capital Economics wrote in a note on Wednesday.

‘Slower growth would make catching the United States economically harder. And there may be an intangible impact on China’s global standing too.’ 

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