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China’s population is declining for the first time in more than 60 years China

China has entered an “era of negative population growth”, after figures revealed a historic decline in the number of people for the first time since 1961.

The country had 1.41175 billion people at the end of 2022, compared with 1.41260 billion a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Tuesday, a drop of 850,000. It marked the beginning of what is expected to be a long period of population decline, despite major government efforts to reverse the trend.

Speaking ahead of the release of the data, Cai Fang, vice chairman of the National People’s Congress Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said China’s population had reached its peak in 2022, much earlier than expected. “Population and economic experts predict that by 2022 or 2023 at the latest, my country will enter an era of negative population growth,” Tsai said.

The Chinese government has been trying for several years to encourage people to have more children and to prevent the coming demographic crisis caused by an aging population. New policies have sought to alleviate the financial and social burdens of raising children, or to actively encourage childbearing through subsidies and tax breaks. Some provinces or cities have announced cash payments to parents who have a second or third child. Last week, the city of Shenzhen announced financial incentives that translate into a total of 37,500 yuan ($5,550) for a family with three children.

However, after decades of a one-child policy that punitively discouraged more children and the rising costs of modern living, resistance remains among couples.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Kang Yi, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, said China’s overall labor supply still exceeded demand and people should not worry about the population decline.

China is on track to overtake India as the world’s most populous nation.

Last year’s birth rate was 6.77 births per 1,000 people, down from a rate of 7.52 births in 2021, the lowest birth rate in history. In real terms, in 2022 there were more than one million fewer registered births compared to the previous year, out of a total of 10.62 million.

The country also recorded its highest death rate since 1976, registering 7.37 deaths per 1,000 people compared to a rate of 7.18 deaths in 2021.

Tsai said it is necessary to adjust China’s social policies, including care for the elderly and pensions, a national financial burden that will worsen in the future and affect China’s economic growth.

Online, some Chinese were not surprised by the announcement, saying the social pressures that have driven the low birth rate remain.

“Housing prices, welfare, education, health care – reasons people can’t afford children,” said one Weibo commenter.

“Who dares to have kids, housing prices are so expensive, no one wants to get married or even fall in love, let alone have kids,” said another.

“I’m not talking about raising social security, I’m just talking about increasing the fertility rate, it’s all bullshit.”

The Chinese government also announced on Tuesday that GDP would grow by 3% in 2022. That figure would mark one of the slowest periods of growth in decades, but was still higher than forecast, prompting some skepticism among analysts given the incredibly tight zero Covid restrictions in place during the fourth quarter.

China’s strict zero-Covid policy, which was in place for three years before the sudden upheaval that overwhelmed medical facilities, has caused further damage to the country’s bleak demographic outlook, population experts said.

Yi Fuxian, an obstetrics and gynecology researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an expert on China’s population changes, said the population decline occurred nearly a decade earlier than the country’s government and the United Nations had predicted.

“Which means China’s real demographic crisis is beyond imagination and all of China’s past economic, social, defense and foreign policies have been based on faulty demographics,” Yi said on Twitter.

“China’s demographic and economic outlook is much bleaker than expected.” China will have to undergo a strategic contraction and adjust its social, economic, defense and foreign policies. China will improve relations with the West.

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