China is set to report its first population decline in decades and

China is set to report its first population decline in decades and could see India overtake it to become the world’s most populated country as Beijing fails to tackle falling birth rates

  • New census results are expected to show that there has been a decline
  • Communist Party keeps the data closely guarded and has delayed publication 
  • Beijing will be loathe to concede the top rank to its industrial rival India 
  • Delhi is keen to challenge China’s status as the world’s main producer of goods 

China is set to report its first population decline in decades and could see India overtake it to become the world’s most populated country.

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

The latest Chinese census, which was completed in December, is being kept closely guarded by the Communist Party but is expected to show a decline in growth in 2020, sources told the Financial Times.  

A dip which allows China’s industrial rival India to surpass its colossal population of 1.4 billion will heap pressure on Beijing to boost the birth rate before the country falls into an irreversible decline. 

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

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

The National Bureau of Statistics was due to release the census in early April. 

The population figure is very sensitive and will not be published until government departments have a consensus on the data and its implications, sources told the FT.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

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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