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Another one on the way

Updated: 2014-02-14 08:47
By Joseph Catanzaro, Yan Yiqi and Li Aoxue ( China Daily Africa)

 Another one on the way

Childhood antics in Taizhou, Zhejiang province. About 20 million Chinese couples are eligible for a second child under the new family planning policy. Provided to China Daily

It's already evident that a change in China's fortunes can produce an economic butterfly effect. A recent flutter in Australia's under-performing manufacturing sector, reported by HSBC, caused the Australian dollar to slump from 0.8836 to 0.8793 in January. It is a minor, but telling, example that the trade and investment links tethering nations and companies to China can just as easily become anchor lines to pull them down.

Brown says the erosion of China's working age demographic will create a labor supply problem that will have "an inflationary impact on Chinese, and therefore global, wage levels".

A world away from the debate about demographics and possible ramifications, on Nov 19, Le and Zhou received some welcome news.

In a major policy shift, the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China announced an estimated 20 million couples would be eligible to have a second child, providing at least one parent had been an only child.

And in the wake of that decision, Le and Zhou's relatively sleepy island home of Zhoushan became the very first region in China to implement the new policy.

For the couple, the flurry of speculation and opinion about whether the policy change would address China's demographic woes was superceded by the fact it had provided the solution to a more immediate and personal problem: Zhou's accidental, but welcome, second pregnancy.

Instead of facing a crippling fine for breaching family planning rules, Zhou is now six months along.

Her unintentional head start puts her in a very small group of pregnant women whose newborn could be the first delivered under the new policy, nationwide.

"I feel really lucky to be qualified for the new policy," Zhou says. "There are people I know who want a second child but don't qualify."

Located just off the coast of East China's Zhejiang province, Zhoushan is the largest island metropolis in the sprawling Zhoushan archipelago.

With a population of about 970,000, spread primarily across 12 of the more than 1,000 islands in the chain, it is considered sparsely populated by Chinese standards.

In 1841, British officer Captain Charles Elliot was severely reprimanded for giving up the then captured island of Zhoushan in a deal under which the trading empire took possession of what was seen as a lesser prize, a "barren" backwater named Hong Kong.

These days, Zhoushan is a popular holiday destination, a lively trading port and a marine industry hub.

It is also a demographic time bomb.

For the past 11 years, the archipelago has recorded negative population growth. By the end of 2012, people aged 60 years or older made up 20.32 percent of the population.

Current projections show that, by 2030, if the aging problem is left unchecked, 40 percent of the local population will fall into the 60 years or older demographic.

In short, if China is beginning to brace for a gray tidal wave, Zhoushan is in line to be one of the first areas inundated.

The relaxed family planning policy went into effect in the rest of Zhejiang province on Jan 17, with other cities and regions expected to follow suit in the first half of this year.

But Zhoushan, because it is a microcosm for the aging population problem now facing China, and the earliest adopter of the new rules, is both a petri dish and the only real indicator to date for measuring reaction to the second-child policy.

The early figures coming out of Zhoushan, where 98 percent of the population was ineligible to have more than one child before the policy change, suggest Le and Zhou's enthusiasm is slow to catch.

In the month following the change of policy, about 3,000 locals approached Zhoushan Health Bureau to inquire about having a second child. However, that has yet to translate into many couples applying to do so, says Yang Ya'er, the department's deputy director.

"They (people) are more rational than excited," Yang says. "They did not show up urgent to get pregnant. They came to get to find out more about the policy, to understand it and to make sure they are eligible under this policy. It doesn't mean they are going to have a baby right now."

As of January, 87 women in Zhoushan had sought permission to have a second child, and 41 had been issued with a certificate to do so after the completion of a 30-day application process.

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