The province of Guangdong, China, unveiled a plan this week to increase its population by 1 million people a year, resulting in a population of 130 million people by 2035, but offered no details as to how it plans to do so.
The attempt at rapid population growth appears to be targeting China’s plummeting birth rate, which appears not yet to have hit its bottom as the factors contributing to the fall — a population sorely lacking in women of child-bearing age and little cultural desire for big families following decades of mandatory abortions and sterilizations — have yet to be addressed properly.
The Chinese Communist Party imposed a “one-child” policy on its Han majority population from 1979 to 2015. Women found “illegally” pregnant were forced into abortions they did not want; many had their infants killed if they managed to give birth without getting caught. Many families, preferring a boy, killed their newborn daughters, resulting in a gender disparity that has severely impaired China’s current aspirations towards increasing the birth rate. As of 2015, when the one-child policy ended, China had 24 million more men than women.
The Chinese government estimates the “one-child policy” “prevented” 400 million people from existing by either killing them or sterilizing women who would have otherwise had children.
The South China Morning Post reported Tuesday that Guangdong’s provincial officials published a proposal to increase the region’s population by 13 percent between 2019 and 2035. Guangdong is a southern province close to Hong Kong and its capital, Guangzhou, one of the nation’s most prominent economic hubs. It is also home to one of the largest African migrant populations in the country — and some of the nation’s most overt racism. At the height of the regional pandemic last year, Guangzhou restaurants began banning black-skinned people from eating there and landlords began evicting black tenants, despite no indication they were unable to pay their rents.
“The report did not say how the provincial government expected its population to increase amid falling birth rates,” the Morning Post noted. “However, some cities in Guangdong have taken steps to relax residency permit requirements — the hukou system that ties workers to their hometowns — to attract new talent.”
The newspaper speculated that much of the proposed growth would come from other parts of China, not from increased birth rates or immigration. Guangzhou, the regional capital, had already expanded permissions to move to the city for college-educated young people. The hukou system strictly regulates where in the country Chinese citizens can relocate to if they wish, and each province gets to decide in part what limitations to place on internal migration. Individuals with low “social credit scores,” like political or religious dissidents, do not get to travel at all.
The Morning Post, citing research on Chinese population changes, predicted the plan would not reach its goals, in large part due to Chinese citizens’ lack of desire to start families. Birth rates have been declining for at least a decade but hit a new low in Guangzhou in 2020.
The has pattern repeated itself nationwide. China’s National Bureau of Statistics estimated a 15-percent drop in births between 2019 and 2020, significantly larger than the decline between 2018 and 2019. Many experts have attributed this in part to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, which in China resulted in extreme lockdowns in which families were, in some cases, welded shut in their homes.
“The low birth rate in China has reached an alarming degree, but it is not a surprise,” a Chinese government-approved expert told the state-run Global Times this month.
Another state outlet, China Daily, hinted at the failure of the two-child policy, noting that allowing twice the number of births nationwide had not actually produced more children.
“Simply allowing a couple to have a second child does not mean they will have one, as the costs of raising children, escalating housing prices and mounting career pressures on women dampen couples’ desire to have more children,” the publication noted, calling the decline “irreversible.”
The decline in births has not moved the Communist Party to change its current family planning policy, the “two-child policy,” which still mandates abortions or infanticides in cases of illegal births. Instead, extensive evidence has come to light showing that China is systematically sterilizing women who belong to ethnic minorities, particularly those of Uyghur background. Uyghurs are not subject to the two-child policy.