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Population peak may hinder development
By Cao Li (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-10-25 08:02

SHANGHAI: China's long-standing family planning policy has helped economic growth over the last three decades but tough hurdles remain in its long term development.

An international forum on population and sustainable development closed Sunday in Shanghai.

China's family planning helped cut down the growth of China's population by about 300 million, almost one-fourth of the current 1.3 billion, said Zhang Weiqing, the minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission.

The policy has also help reduce the pressure on various fronts such as social and economic development, resources and the environment.

"Since the 1990s, China's population has been maintaining a low birth rate, low mortality and low growth rate," said Zhang. That marks a change "from its previous high birth rate, low mortality and high growth rate."

"The effective family planning programme has brought China stable economic growth of about 9 per cent in recent years."

Still, China has a huge population base, which means the country's population will grow by about 10 million every year over the next two decades to reach a peak of 1.46 billion by the mid 2030s.

That peak will bring with it great employment and social welfare challenges.

China's working age population (people aged between 15 and 64) will max out at about 940 million in 2020, estimates suggest, making up about 65 per cent of the population.

By the middle of the century, nearly one-fourth of China's total population will be 65 years of age or older.

The unsound population structure will put serious pressure on the economy, society, resources and environment.

"Compared with other countries, our overall population quality is still low," said Zhang.

Only 4.63 per cent of the population aged between 25 to 64 hold a college degree or above, less than one-fourth the number in Europe.

According to a 2000 census there were still 85.07 million illiterate and half-literate people, aged above 15, in the country.

About 120 million people, are either disabled or suffer from an endemic disease, creating a significant pool of unemployable people.

Since it first started its opening-up policy in the 1970s, China has reduced its poor population from 250 million to 30 million, says Minister Zhang.

However, the figure has risen again in recent years due to the poor living conditions and environment, diseases and natural disasters. And more urban poverty has been observed.

In 2003, there were about 23 million city dwellers living on subsistence allowances, constituting 4.5 of all urban population.

In the 2002 census, 144 million floating people were counted. Nearly 80 per cent of them had migrated from the countryside to the cities.

These migrants contributed to cities economic and social development but brought with them some burdens as well.

Take Shanghai, for example. The city has 1.27 per cent of the country's population but takes up only 0.06 per cent of China's land mass.

According to a recent study, Shanghai can support a maximum population of 28 million. By 2020, the metropolis is expected to house 24 million.

"To solve those problems, we must insist on our current population policy," said Zhang.

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