A file photo shows farmers transferring rice seedling at a seedling base in Jianhe in China's southwestern Guizhou province. (AFP)
A file photo shows farmers transferring rice seedling at a seedling base in Jianhe in China's southwestern Guizhou province. (AFP)

Beijing sees lowest birth rate in 2020, China’s population to decline: Reports

The reported change in Beijing’s demographics, a city of more than 21 million people, is an indication that the number of people in China could start to decline six years from now
By Sutirtho Patranobis
PUBLISHED ON APR 28, 2021 04:26 PM IST

Beijing recorded its lowest number of births in 2020, official data has revealed, with a top expert saying the Chinese capital’s population could start shrinking from 2022, and China’s by 2027.

The change in Beijing’s demographics, a city of more than 21 million people, is an indication that the number of people in China could start to decline six years from now, according to a report published in the tabloid Global Times on Wednesday.

The number of newborns in Beijing hit a new low in a decade in 2020, decreasing by 32,000 as against the previous year to a total of 100,368.

Not just Beijing, a dozen Chinese cities in eastern China’s Zhejiang and southern China’s Guangdong provinces have reported the numbers of newborns in 2020 hitting a new low in the past six to 10 years.

The state media report comes a day after the London-based Financial Times newspaper reported that China was poised to report its first population decline in five decades following a once-in-a-decade census, which was completed last December.

The FT report said the latest census figures are expected to show China’s population slipping to under 1.4 billion.

The statistics from the new census were expected to be released earlier this year, but have been delayed possibly because of the complexities that have emerged around the population figure.

The population figure is considered sensitive and won’t be published until government departments have a consensus on the data and its implications, The Financial Times wrote, citing its sources.

A population drop will add pressure on Beijing to roll out measures to encourage couples to have more children and avert an irreversible decline, the report said.

Overall, the number of babies born in China fell by 580,000 to 14.65 million in 2019 and the birth rate of 10.48 per thousand was the lowest since 1949 when present methods of collating data began, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

The two-child policy implemented from 2016 has failed to make an impact on the low birth rates.

Speaking to Global Times, Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert from the Beijing-based think-tank Centre for China and Globalisation, said the narrowing gap between newborns and deaths indicated that the capital city may see more deaths than newborns starting 2022 - which will mark a natural negative growth in population.

Huang said it would impede the capital’s economic development.

“Beijing’s figures indicated that China’s total population will soon start to decline, which may come before 2027,” Huang said. “A soon-to-decline population is predicted by demographers, which would allow India to replace China as the world’s most populous country, perhaps in 2022, if not this year.”

That would be earlier than the prediction of a 2017 UN report, which had said India’s population will surpass China’s by 2024. India’s current population is 1.39 billion.

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