A baby boy delivered in a Beijing maternity ward early yesterday became China's 1.3 billionth citizen, the government said, using the occasion to tout its contentious one-child policy.
China imposed a policy of allowing one child per family about 30 years ago, following a post-World War II baby boom. Couples who have unsanctioned children have been subject to heavy fines, job losses and forced sterilization.
The policy has kept the US from giving money to the UN's Population Fund for fear the money will go toward supporting coercive abortions in China.
China would have reached 1.3 billion citizens four years earlier if it weren't for its family planning policy, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The boy was born yesterday at the Beijing Maternity Hospital at 12:02am to a father who works for Air China and a mother employed by Shell China, Xinhua said.
"I am the happiest guy in the world and my boy will be blessed all his life," the father, Zhang Tong, was quoted by Xinhua as saying. The child's name was not reported.
China credits its one-child policy with enabling the country's stable economic growth.
Last month, US State Department officials told Congress that China's birth-planning laws and policies were harshly coercive.
They cited the case of Mao Hengfeng, a Shanghai woman serving a one-and-a-half-year sentence in a labor camp for her campaign to abolish China's family planning policies.
Since her second pregnancy in the late 1980s, Mao has been assigned to psychiatric wards, coerced into an abortion, and removed from her job.
On Wednesday, the New York-based activist group Human Rights in China said that Mao's sentence had been extended another three months by Shanghai authorities.
US President George W. Bush's administration, in addition to pressing China on human-rights issues, has for the last three years barred US funds for the UN Population Fund, charging that the UNFPA's support of China's population planning programs allows China to implement its policies of coercive abortion.
China says that the policy has meant that Chinese couples -- who had an average of 5.8 children in the 1970s -- now average 1.8 children currently.
But commentators also worry that the sharp drop in China's birth rate will lead to problems as a smaller pool of young workers is left to support a large population of retirees. It has also led to a dangerous gender imbalance.
Government figures show 119 boys are born in China for every 100 girls _ a gap blamed largely on the one-child limitation. In a society that values sons, many parents abort baby girls, hoping to try again for a boy.
Worldwide, fewer than 110 boys are born to every 100 girls.
If current trends continue, officials say China could have as many as 40 million men who can't find spouses by 2020.