BEIJING - China will stick to its family-planning policy in the coming decades to maintain a low fertility rate, a top population official said on Saturday at an event to mark the 30th anniversary of the country's unique policy.
The policy, which restricts most Chinese couples to one child, has reduced the fertility rate (the number of children a woman is expected to have in her lifetime) roughly from 6 to 2 since it was introduced in late 1970s, according to official figures.
"Historical change doesn't come easily, and I, on behalf of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, extend profound gratitude to all, the people in particular, for their support of the national course," said Li Bin, head of the commission.
"So we will stick to the family-planning policy in the coming decades," she said.
Over the past 30 years, 400 million births have been prevented, official statistics show.
The policy has already succeeded in curbing rapid population growth. Outstanding challenges like an aging population, a skewed sex ratio and a dwindling workforce will peak in 20 to 30 years, Li said.
Yuan Xin, a professor at Nankai University's population and development research institute, said the intervention in China's fertility rate, as a result of the family-planning policy, is partly responsible for these problems.
Yuan, who is also in charge of several of the commission's research programs, said most Western countries took more than 100 years to achieve similar reductions in their fertility rates without compulsory government policies.
"In contrast, China implemented its family planning policy and achieved its objective within three decades, which will, in turn, intensify some side effects," he told China Daily.
Western countries made a more natural transition in reducing and stabilizing their fertility rates, which have remained around two children per family since the 1960s, he said.
"In China, the family planning policy rapidly sped up the process, with many having made, or having been forced to make, a personal sacrifice to help achieve the national goal," he said.
In China today, the fertility rates in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing are already the lowest in the world, with 1.3 children per family. Many urbanites prefer to have a small family or even no children at all, Yuan said.
However, it has been demographically proven that drops in fertility rates always accompany the processes of urbanization, education and economic development, without any administrative intervention, experts said.
Some have argued that it is time for the government to relax its family-planning policy to offset the country's aging population, which could possibly undermine economic development.
Population authorities in Beijing and Guangdong were reported as having said that they would soon relax control in their jurisdictions.
However, the national commission immediately dismissed the claims.
While the government is highly cautious of policy change, to meet these challenges efforts have been made to allow urban couples from single-child families to have a second child, as well as to provide welfare programs for rural couples who choose to uphold the single-child policy, Yuan said.