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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

China: Conundrums of Solomon Proportions

China's population policies.


China's One child PolicyHow do you solve a conundrum as complex as the developing of policies aimed at achieving a sustainable population level whilst delivering equal economic opportunity and quality of life to the people of a land that is almost at the end of it’s resource capacity?

A land where existing inequalities are already significant and will, if left unchecked, only grow at an exponential rate. A land where requisite infrastructure investment, both in economic and human capital, to rectify the imbalances of today alone defy comprehension as to their size and temporal requirements let alone the problems of the tomorrow.

When looking into an abyss one is struck with a feeling of both wonderment and fear. Wonder at the sheer size and fear that one will fall or be pushed into its gaping blackness.

Such must be the feelings of China’s leadership as the future is paraded before them, a future of incredible wonderment as to challenges that would require the wisdom of ten Solomons and the dreaded fear of what will happen if those challenges go unmet.

This situation China find herself in today and, more importantly, where it will find itself tomorrow, has not come about unexpectedly. 25 years ago the Chinese Government recognised the exact nature of the predicament that the country was in and took the unheard of steps of announcing a “One Child Policy” in an attempt to slow the tide that was rushing in on their country. As a result of this policy it is estimated that some 300 million Chinese children were not born and would not go on to beget others.

Three hundred million unborn children were effectively sacrificed in order to buy time, for, that is all it has done, bought a little more time to hopefully allow a solution to be found for a problem that will not only engulf China, if it goes unsolved, but the whole world.

To the uninitiated statistics in China are mind boggling. One hears figures and attempts to relate them in some orderly way to known things. China’s population at the end of 2003 was estimated at 1.29 billion people, 21% of the population of the whole world. 64 times the size of Australia (20m) 21 times the size of Great Britain (60m) and 4 times the size of the United States (290m). It is estimated it will grow to 1.448 million by 2020 and 1.6 billion by mid century.

China’s population over the age of 16 will increase by the staggering number of 5.5 million people annually for the next twenty years, a number many times the size of most large cities. What does it take to provide an infrastructure and an economy to absorb and support a new State of Victoria, Australia (4.64m 2001) or Minnesota, USA (5.01m 2002 est), or two Greater Manchesters U.K. (2.48m 2001) every year, year in an year out for the next 20, all working aged people?

But these numbers are but one part of the equation. Throw in a gender imbalance that will see 30-40 million more men than woman by 2020 and the consequent social problems, toss in a population that comprises 11.8% of people over 65 now and will grow to 17% in 2020 and 25% by mid century and the consequent problems of health care and social security.

All these figures are truly fantastic but when considered from a viewpoint that 25 years ago China was considered an undeveloped country (and still, despite it’s meteoric growth over the last ten years, technically remains so) the task ahead seems daunting. To mix metaphors not only are they coming from behind the eight ball but are coming from way, way back in the field.

Unlike developed countries there is no established and acceptable public health system, no established social security regime, the quality (education levels) of the population is poor and there exists, despite a burgeoning economy, a huge structural unemployment problem that will only get worse. Unlike western countries where services exist and can grow in a timely and orderly manner with demand in China the demand precedes the services.

There are also huge divides as between the east of the country and the west, the urban and the rural in terms of income, investment, infrastructure and quality of life. Divides that potentialy are the sources of major social upheaval.

Then we have the resources situation. China is quickly losing the capacity to feed itself or provide itself with the necessary energy supplies to maintain the status quo let alone continue its necessary growth into the future. History tells us to beware a country starving of food and energy.

How can all of this be addressed and what will be the outcome if it is not? Can we realistically push for democratisation of a country that has so many other challenges facing it that alone seem insurmountable? Does the Chinese Government more fully appreciate the implicit “peril” of the situation more so than the developed west which has troubles just coming to terms with the absolutes let alone the relatives?

When China says we must take care of the whole rather than the individual is it because the problems are too great to even scratch the surface let alone dig to the lower levels where the concept of “individual’ resides?

China seems to be the center of the economic world at the moment but perhaps it should be the center for other reasons.

There is an old Chinese saying "May you live in interesting times". I think in the next fifty years or so we might all be doing just that.

References..
1. "Population Problems Loom" Peoples Daily March 10, 2004
2."Imbalances emerge in population growth." Peoples Daily. 24 May 2004
3."12.7 million more boys than girls under 9" Peoples Daily. 10 May 2004
4."Gender disparity need work" Peoples Daily. March 21. 2004
5."Rising Sex Disproportion sparks concerns" Peoples Daily March 8, 2004
6."Working age population to reach 940 million by 2020" Peoples Daily. April 26, 2004