Vice President Joe Biden received attention -- and plenty of GOP criticism -- when he said on his recent trip to China that he's "not second-guessing" that nation's one-child policy.
“You have no safety net. Your policy has been one which I fully understand -- I'm not second-guessing -- of one child per family,” Biden said in remarks discussing China's social-safety net. “The result being that you’re in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable.”
But there was one major point missing from the debate over Biden's controversial remarks: The Chinese government, it turns out, has quietly been "second-guessing" its one-child policy for quite some time, given its aging population and millions of grooms without brides on the horizon.
For one thing, the massive Chinese population is getting older, which means a shrinking workforce. Indeed, the most recent national census in April revealed that the proportion of mainland Chinese people aged 14 or younger was 16.6%, down by more than 6 percentage points from a decade ago.
So some local governments are encouraging parents to think about adding more to the family. Two years ago, for instance, the Shanghai city government started actively encouraging eligible couples to have more than one child.
“We advocate eligible couples to have two kids, because it can help reduce the proportion of the aging people and alleviate a work force shortage in the future,” Xie Lingli, director of the Shanghai Population and Family Planning Commission, said in a July 2009 edition of the China Daily, the country’s largest state-run English-language newspaper.
Second, China also has a looming groom problem on its hands.
Approximately 24 million Chinese men of marrying age are projected to find themselves wife-less in 2020 -- partly because the one-child policy has led to sex-selective abortion of female fetuses, according to a study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the government's premier think tank.
In fact, in a press conference in Beijing on Tuesday, Deputy Health Minister Liu Qian unveiled even more census figures showing an increasingly imbalanced sex ratio at birth on the Chinese mainland. The China Daily cited "the abuse of medical technology such as illegal sex-selective abortion" among the culprits.
Although Liu did not discuss a loosening of the one-child policy, one thing is clear from all this: At the very least, whispers of change are circulating among government officials on the subject of punishing "ineligible" couples who do elect to have a second child.
It is also worthwhile to note that there are several loopholes and exceptions to China's one-child rule -- first established in 1979 -- that already exist. Some rural residents can have a second child if their first is a girl, because of the ongoing stigmatization of female births. Also, if both parents are single children, they can have two kids. And ethnic minorities are allowed to have more than one child.