Sydney – Beijing’s decision to encourage women to have three children for the nation is the wrong way forward. The choice to reverse course on the birthrate and aim for a return to the past — a nation of large families — will fail because it has failed everywhere else.
It will fail even more spectacularly in China and reflect poorly on the tenure of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It is time for the CCP to come clean and ditch any association with pronatalism — an ideology that promotes higher birthrates. There are many officials in Beijing who know the approach is a sinking ship, a waste of time, money and on the wrong side of history.
The foreign press however went crazy over the Chinese News Agency report on May 31, heralding the decision for higher fertility as China’s salvation. Raising the birthrate, the foreign media stated with almost one voice, is the only way to rescue a Chinese economy suffering from an aging population.
What complete and utter rubbish. Here we go again. Expect hundreds of articles all spouting the same rambling incoherent and illogical nonsense about China’s demographic abyss, its future decline and a need for more babies.
Those misinformed of the facts still use the same arguments about Japan. Pronatalism is as successful as groping in a dark room with a blindfold on for a black cat that is no longer there.
The new policy is vague. China, Beijing says, will pursue education and guidance to promote marriage and family values; but what that means is anyone’s guess. Who are the patrons of this change? The origins of this new policy are as clear as the origins of the coronavirus.
In the March 5 Report on the Work of the Government, presented by Li Keqiang, the premier of the State Council, there was only passing reference to this new policy tucked away in a complex discussion on child care, retirement and social security. It stated: “We will refine the childbirth policy, work to achieve an appropriate birthrate … .” Beijing knows that running an economy is a little more complicated than simply bearing babies for the nation.
Developed nations have had little if no success in sustaining or increasing birthrates and there is no causal relationship between higher birthrates and economic growth. If you like, fact-check it.
Small families are here to stay. Chinese women have the right to be left alone by the government. Whether a woman chooses to have one child, 10, or none, it is her own decision and not the business of the state.
Globally, feminism is here to stay, (even in China) because half of the world’s population has tasted freedom for the first time in recorded history and they will not give up that freedom easily, no matter how many old men tell them to do so.
What freedoms are we talking about? Freedom to bear children or not bear children; freedom to use contraceptives; freedom to have a job and secure financial independence; freedom to choose a partner; freedom to marry or not marry; freedom to divorce; and freedom to postpone childbirth. Chances are your great-grandmother had none of these freedoms growing up. How happy they would be for you.
Pronatalism is a virus that emerges when nations reject sound economic policy. It comes with an anti-freedom serum that is injected into society, but our antibodies are too strong. Freedom always wins, eventually.
The ludicrous notion of promoting three children instead of letting women choose demonstrates that the CCP is stuck in the past. This is tragic. The Chinese on a daily basis endure a legacy of strict, inflexible and rigid policies that should have been buried with Mao.
Why three? Why not let women choose for themselves? Women, it might surprise the old men who want more babies for the nation, are not robots or factors of production, but human beings. It is time for real freedom. Who knows, maybe something good will come of it.
If we want to talk about something worse than the coronavirus, such a policy will be catastrophic for climate change. Any proposal to increase the population growth rate is a clear repudiation of a genuine commitment to reigning in carbon emissions. This is a nightmare scenario.
The costs of an aging population is not a problem for China; it is a budgetary issue, not a demographic one. The “aging society” is code, not for the elderly as an age bracket, but older adults and the poor. Welfare for senior citizens is the most basic form of welfare protection, and yet most countries fail dismally in this area.
All developed nations pretend to care for the poor, but the poor are still with us. It is a disgrace. It should shame us all. Is the neglect of the poor proof of our prosperity?
The same governments lamenting the aging society always have enough to spend on the war economy and new military technology. Like America and Russia, Chinese leaders are happy to put people on Mars and build bigger bombs, but they ignore the plight of the vulnerable, older adults and the poor.
While nations cannot agree on climate change, they can agree on profligate military spending. This is the truth behind nations plagued with the so-called aged society. Some of those billions earmarked for war, could be used to help the old and poor in China, America and even Japan. If military spending continues to be a blank check with governments salivating over the prospects for war and mass slaughter, what mother will feel safe with her children growing up in that kind of world? Good luck with the new birthrate policy Beijing. Make sure you remember the children.
Michael Sutton is a former research fellow at the WTO Research Center at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo and a former resident of Kyoto who now lives in Sydney. He is currently writing a book on the politics of demographic change in East Asia.
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