China mulls over lifting birth restrictions in north-east region

China's birthrate in 2019 dropped to the lowest level since at least 1949.
China's birthrate in 2019 dropped to the lowest level since at least 1949.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - China is considering lifting all restrictions on births in its north-east provinces as the next step in attempts to arrest the falling birthrate in the rapidly aging society.

The north-east region can implement a "comprehensive birth policy pilot plan", the country's National Health Commission suggested in a statement from last August that was released on Thursday (Feb 18).

China has a history of testing new policies in a few areas and then rolling them out nationwide if successful.

China's population is aging more quickly than most of the world's developed economies due to decades of family planning aimed at halting population growth. Even with the loosening of those policies in recent years the birthrate has continued to decline, dropping in 2019 to the lowest level since at least 1949.

It likely continued to fall in 2020, with the number of newborn babies registered with the police dropping by about 15 per cent. Full data will be released in April.

The news helped boost the share prices of related companies on Friday, with formula maker Beingmate, maternity and children's supplies retailer Shanghai Aiyingshi and toy manufacturer Goldlok Holdings Guangdong up by their 10 per cent daily limit. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index was little changed as of 1.50pm.

The Communist Party has already signalled its willingness to further relax birth restrictions during the 14th Five-Year Plan period that starts this year, urging an "inclusive" birth policy at a Party conclave held in late October.

The north-east provinces have some of the country's lowest birth rates, and the commission said it can conduct research on how lifting birth restrictions would impact the local economy and social stability. However, the statement noted that the desire to have children is low in the region despite the current relatively loose restrictions.

"Socio-economic factors have become an important factor affecting births, especially economic burdens, infant- and childcare, and female career development," according to the statement, which called for improved public services and steps to address the concerns families have about raising children.