China said yesterday that creating welfare programs for its soaring numbers of elderly is a national priority, but warned that will be a daunting challenge in a rapidly graying society.
China faces an acute demographic crunch due to birth-control programs that limit most urban couples to one child, which will cause the ratio of working people to retirees to drop sharply.
The government has launched pension, health care and other programs for the elderly, the Cabinet said in a report on aging. It didn't mention any new initiatives.
"China regards the establishment of an old-age security system corresponding to the level of the country's socio-economic development and aging population as an important task and a priority area," it said.
But it cautioned that with the population of elderly people rising 3 percent a year, paying for such programs will strain finances.
"However, as a developing country with a population of 1.3 billion, China still has problems and shortcomings in the work concerning elderly people," the report said.
The number of elderly Chinese people is expected to top 200 million by 2015 and 280 million by 2025, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
"Given the absence of adequate social security provision, the economic and social consequences of aging will present a massive challenge to the Chinese government,'' said Bob Ash, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London who studies the issue.
"The financial burden on the state to meet the needs of the aging population will be enormous all the more so, given that China is unlikely to attain the status of a rich country in the foreseeable future," he said.
The government "has begun to study the establishment of an old-age social security system in rural areas in order to guarantee the basic livelihood of the elderly people there," the report said.