Why China’s new three-child plan is doomed — and dangerous
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Last Monday, the handful of old men who run China decided to allow Chinese couples to have three children.
The surprise move, made by communist dictator Xi Jinping and his Politburo colleagues, marks a stunning reversal of the infamous one-child policy.
That decades-long effort to limit couples to one child led to hundreds of millions of forced abortions and sterilizations, crushing the birth rate in the world’s most populous country.
By 2015, China’s National Bureau of Statistics was reporting that Chinese women were averaging only 1.05 children. This was the second lowest fertility rate in the world — only tiny Singapore was lower — and a recipe for demographic suicide.
China began haltingly encouraging more births in 2016, when it first relaxed its one-child policy, but the years since have seen the number of births continue to fall.
Only 12 million babies were born in 2020, down from 14.65 million the year before. This is the lowest number of births since China’s great famine of 1961 when, coincidentally, some 42.5 million people starved to death.
The new three-child policy was necessary, China state media Xinhua brusquely explained, “to actively respond to the aging of the population.”
That’s putting it mildly. China today is literally dying, filling more coffins than cradles each year. Chinese Communist leaders are increasingly worried about having enough workers and soldiers for the factories and armies of the future.
But it is doubtful that the three-child policy will succeed — at least as long as it remains voluntary.
The problem is that the ranks of young women were decimated during the decades of the one-child policy. Baby girls were aborted and abandoned to die by the millions by Chinese parents who were desperate for a son.
There are simply too few young women of childbearing age remaining to offset the coming population crash — unless every single one marries and has three children.
I can’t imagine any combination of carrots that would induce China’s young, urban, working women to devote themselves to motherhood in this way.
In fact, some responded to the new proposal with mockery — or at least the closest thing to mockery that the communist censors will allow. “Don’t make me laugh,” one commenter posted on Weibo about the new policy. “Married only children have four elderly parents to care for. If you add three children as well you won’t have a life.”
Of course, if persuasion doesn’t work, I can easily imagine that China’s leaders might resort to compulsion. In fact, local party officials are already suggesting that people need to be strong-armed into the
“Only the strong leadership of the Party can solve this problem . . . of a catastrophic population decline,” wrote professor Nie Shengzhe in 2018. His proposals, which have since been echoed by others, include:
- Party cadres should take the lead in having two, three or four children, and give priority to promoting party cadres who have more children.
- The Party Central Committee should establish strict control over the sale of condoms and contraceptives and forbid hospitals from performing abortions.
- The Party’s propaganda department should vigorously propagandize the ideas that “more children bring many blessings” and “one is too few, two is not enough, three is good, four is the best.”
- Those Party members of childbearing age who use contraceptives when having sex should be punished.
Would Xi Jinping balk at imposing such measures on the Chinese population?
Not if he remembers his Mao.
The late chairman — who is Xi’s model in all things — said in a famous 1957 speech that, “Reproduction needs to be planned. In my view, humankind is completely incapable of managing itself. It has plans for production in factories, for producing cloth, tables and chairs, and steel, but there is no plan for producing humans.”
Xi Jinping has now made it clear that he wants to “produce more humans” and no one should doubt that he has the means to enforce his plan.
I just hope no one gives Xi a copy of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The novel, as well as the miniseries by the same name, describes a polygamous society where women — handmaids — are forced to bear children.
It might give him ideas.
Steven W. Mosher is the president of the Population Research Institute and the author of “Bully of Asia: Why China’s ‘Dream’ is the New Threat to World Order.”
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