Population now stands at 1.341 billion, growth slows

08:20, March 01, 2011      

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China's population reached 1.34 billion people last year, the National Bureau of Statistics said yesterday, a modest jump for a massive population which has led experts to suggest the country may relax its generation-old one-child policy.

The figure of 1.3410 billion, which is preliminary and based on a sample survey, shows that China added about 6.3 million people last year, up from 1.3347 billion at the end of 2009.

China is due to release the final count next month, after the government tallies the results of its 2010 census, the first in 10 years, the statistics bureau said.

The number indicates a slower rate of growth nationwide than the previous year and experts said the decline in growth could help convince policy makers to relax the government's strict family planning policy.

Since 1979, families in cities have been limited to one child and rural parents to two.

"China's population now is mainly growing because people are living longer, not because people are having lots of babies," said Cai Yong, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina and an expert on China's population.

Cai told The Associated Press that the figure reported on the National Bureau of Statistics website wasn't surprising but was on the low end of the government's expectations.

It could embolden policy makers to experiment with loosening the family planning policy to allow couples in a handful of provinces to have two children if they wanted, he said.

China's population growth has been contracting since 1987 and the United States Census Bureau has projected it will peak at slightly less than 1.4 billion in 2026, with India overtaking China as the world's most populous nation in 2025.

Experts attribute the slowing growth rate to the strict family planning limits and to the country's urbanization and growing prosperity. The government says its family planning rules have prevented more than 400 million births since it was implemented three decades ago.

Cai said allowing more births now would help the country cope with looking after its large and growing elderly population.

"To have a stable society, you better start now, to think ahead of time because it takes 20 to 30 years to have another generation come down the line," he said.

China's National Population and Family Planning Commission has said that keeping the country's birth rate low will remain a priority for the next five years, and that its policies should remain basically stable.

Wang Feng, director of the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy in Beijing, said the 2010 population figure reflected a growth rate of 4.7 people per thousand, compared with 5.5 per thousand in 2009. "This just continues a declining trend for the growth rate," said Wang. "It's getting lower every year."

By Alexa Olesen, Shanghai Daily
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