Beijing weighs phasing out of one-child policy

Think tank: End birth limits by ’20

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BEIJING — A Chinese government think tank is urging the country’s leaders to start phasing out its one-child policy immediately and allow two children for every family by 2015, a daring proposal to do away with the unpopular policy.

Some demographers see the timetable put forward by the China Development Research Foundation as a bold move by the body close to the central leadership.

Others warn that the gradual approach, if implemented, would still be insufficient to help correct the problems that China’s strict birth limits have created.

Xie Meng, a press-affairs official with the foundation, said the final version of the report will be released “in a week or two.”

Chinese state media have been given advance copies. The official Xinhua News Agency said the foundation recommends a two-child policy in some provinces from this year and a nationwide two-child policy by 2015. It proposes all birth limits be dropped by 2020, Xinhua reported.

China has paid a huge political and social cost for the policy, as it has resulted in social conflict, high administrative costs and led indirectly to a long-term gender imbalance at birth,” Xinhua said, citing the report.
But it remains unclear whether Chinese leaders are ready to take up the recommendations.

China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission had no immediate comment on the report Wednesday.
Known to many as the “one-child policy,” China’s actual rules are more complicated.

The government limits most urban couples to one child, and allows two children for rural families if their first-born is a girl. There are numerous other exceptions as well, including looser rules for minority families and a two-child limit for parents who are themselves both their parents’ only child.

Cai Yong, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the report holds extra weight because the think tank is under the State Council, China’s Cabinet.

He said he found it remarkable that state-backed demographers were willing to publicly propose such a detailed schedule and plan on how to get rid of China’s birth limits.

“That tells us at least that policy change is inevitable, it’s coming,” said Mr. Cai, who was not involved in the drafting of the report but knows many of the authorities who were.

Mr. Cai is a visiting scholar at Fudan University in Shanghai. “It’s coming, but we cannot predict when exactly it will come.”

Adding to the uncertainty is a once-in-a-decade leadership transition that kicks off Nov. 8 that will see a new slate of top leaders installed by next spring.

Mr. Cai said the transition could keep population reform on the back burner, or changes might be rushed through to help burnish the reputations of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on their way out.

There has been growing speculation among Chinese media, specialists and ordinary people about whether the government will soon relax the one-child policy — introduced in 1980 as a temporary measure to curb surging population growth — and allow more people to have two children.

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