The ruling Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China recently relaxed its 39-year-old one-child policy. Officials claimed that the revision would not only boost the state’s economy, but also help change the demographics of its rapidly aging population and bring closer the increasingly dramatic gender gap. International media cast doubts on the developments, as sources from around the world recognized that it will take more than adjustment to the family planning policy to get Chinese parents to have another child.
American media presented the legacy of the one-child policy as being one of the more notorious intrusions of the Communist Party into the lives of Chinese citizens. The state’s birth planning machinery was called a bloated behemoth unable and unwilling to lift its “grip on the homes and bedrooms of its people.” Birth planning was further said to be “baked into the business of governance,” with revenue from the fines fueling widespread corruption. But authors also pointed out that the recent change of state policy was celebrated as a human rights victory in a country where freedoms remained tightly restricted. More critical pieces notably emphasized China’s dismal human rights record as a point of concern in Britain’s welcoming of the Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“The country’s population has become too male, too old and too small. China has a surplus of 30 million bachelors and a shrinking labor force. By 2050, its army of retirees will outnumber the entire population of the U.S.”
– The Wall Street Journal, “China’s Quiet Two-Child Experiment“
German media argued that China’s turn away from the one-child policy could be mainly explained by the negative consequences of insufficient female births. Another major reason was seen in the aging of the Chinese population. Spiegel published a strong opinion article criticizing China for intervening in one of the most personal decisions that a couple could make. It also suggested that China’s decision to abolish the one-child policy was not driven by understanding of the policy being essentially wrong – but rather by the more pragmatic economic reasons. German media outlets such as Spiegel and Süddeutsche Zeitung articulated criticism of this law in very strong language.
Media attention to this topic was far lower in Russia. Vesti and Slon each published just one article, focusing on the potential implications of abolishing the policy in China and questioning whether doing so would help tackle increasing social and economic problems in the country. In comparison to Western media, Russian outlets put far less emphasis on human rights violations. Nevertheless, Slon did refer to the former policy as “the most severe social experiment in modern history”. Russian sources also concluded that the effects of abolishing China’s one-child policy will not be instant and further suggested that China will age before it gets rich.
Estonian media portrayed China’s revision of its infamous one-child policy as having been somewhat predictable. Perhaps therefore the topic did not receive much attention in Estonia. The prevailing narrative among Estonian sources suggested that the revised policy will not be fully effective, for even a much-needed baby boom would only bring short-lived results. Estonian media also remained pessimistic on the willingness of Chinese parents to have that second child. In one article, ERR speculated that successful families do not want a second child and prefer to instead invest in the first, while Delfi published an article with titled “Two is too much trouble, do Chinese parents rush to get the second child?“.
The response of Lithuanian media to the recent easing of China’s decades-old one-child policy appeared to be relatively moderate. News sources depicted the changes as already being very delayed, noting that family planning policy produced massive demographic problems and related economic challenges. As in Estonia, media outlets were particularly pessimistic of the potential of the new two-child policy to bring immediate changes in China’s demographic composition. Lithuanian media outlined two main reasons for not expecting rapid improvements: first, families did not want to have a second child due to the same economic pressure, and second, restrictions in the new two-child policy remained strict and very few families could match the criteria.