China’s population grew last year, the National Statistic Bureau said yesterday, in an apparent bid to quash reports that it had fallen, but stopped short of saying from which year numbers had grown.
On Tuesday, the Financial Times said that China was set to report that its population fell below 1.4 billion last year from 2019, in the first decrease in five decades, citing people familiar with the matter.
The bureau has delayed publishing the results of last year’s once-in-a-decade census, with no explanation apart from saying more preparatory work was needed.
It had been due to announce the results early this month.
“According to our understanding, in 2020, our country’s population continued to grow,” the bureau said in a one-sentence statement, adding that detailed figures would be disclosed when the census results were published.
Births in China have continued to fall despite a two-child policy that replaced a decades-old one-child limit scrapped in 2016 in hopes of boosting the number of babies.
Last year, births plunged 15 percent to 10.035 million from 2019, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security has said.
The 2010 census showed the mainland population was 1.34 billion.
By 2019, this had increased to 1.4005 billion, the bureau said in February last year.
The bureau yesterday did not say if last year’s growth was being measured from 2019 or from 2010, which means the population could have still increased from the past decade, but declined from a year earlier.
“The census is very accurate, but the reason for the delay in publishing it may be that some of the speculation is correct,” said Liu Kaiming, a labor expert in the southern city of Shenzhen.
“The number of newborns released by the [Chinese] Ministry of Public Security is close to falling below 10 million; therefore, the population of 2020 may be less than 1.4 billion,” Liu said.
The population number is very sensitive and would not be released until government departments have reached a consensus on the data and its implications, the Financial Times said.
An unexpected drop in population would pile pressure on Beijing to quickly come up with measures to encourage people to have more children and avoid an irreversible decline.
State media have in the past few months said the population might start to shrink in the next few years.
In 2016, Beijing set a target to increase the population to about 1.42 billion by last year.
The last time the Chinese population fell was in 1959 to 1961, during Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward campaign.
During the period, the population shrank 13.48 million, bureau data showed, amid a famine caused by the disastrous economic policy.
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