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Under new policy, will Chinese families choose a second child?

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Joining me now to discuss the change is Mei Fong, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with over a decade of experience covering Asia. She's the author of the upcoming book "One Child: The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment."

    Mei Fong, welcome to the program.

    So, just how significant a shift in policy is this for China's communist leadership?

    MEI FONG, "One Child": Well, your segment mentioned too little too late, and that's really kind of what it is.

    For the past 15 years now, a lot of experts of demographics, economists, demographers, have been asking for this change to happen. They have all warned of the aging tsunami that's going to happen. They have warned of the gender imbalances. But the Chinese government has been very, very slow to change it, so actually the question is not why it happened now, but why has it taken so long to happen.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, why do you think they decided now? I mean, we heard some of the reasons there, but what — what do you think has led them to do this right now?

  • MEI FONG:

    Well, it's a looming crisis that's affecting the economic growth of the future.

    Right now, there are about five working adults to support one retiree in China. That's a pretty good ratio. But in 20 years' time, that's going to be 1.6 working adults to one elderly retiree. That's a huge difference. And there's not going to be enough people to pay in for all these pension imbalances and support an aging population that, if it were its own country, would be the third largest country in the world after China and India.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How representative, Mei Fong, is the story we just saw of that family? They had two daughters. And one of the daughters is basically a non-person.

  • MEI FONG:

    They call them heihaizi, black children, because they don't exist. They're non-people.

    There are about, estimated, between 13 to 15 million of these children that — not necessarily children. Now some of them are adults. But for all intents and purposes, they just don't exist in China. They can't register to buy a house. They can't go to school.

    That girl that she interviewed, I spoke to her. Her name is Sno. She is 20 years old. She's never been to school. She can't even get so much as a library card, because she has no registration rights.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Will the government now make some sort of attempt to redress that because they're changing the policy?

  • MEI FONG:

    It's really difficult, because one of the big issues that they fear is places like Beijing and Shanghai. Beijing and Shanghai already have something like 18 to 20 million people, city residents.

    They are very afraid of changing the household registration to enable everybody to have those rights, because they fear this flood of people and there won't be enough resources to service 20 million people in the city.

    So it's going to be very thorny. A lot of people have actually been suing to have these rights. This girl, for example, she has been spending the last three to four years fruitlessly trying to sue the government to give her those rights, which legally she's entitled to, but she's still not able to get it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What difference is it thought this is going to make in China's — in the decisions families make? I mean, is it thought that many families will now decide to have a second child?

  • MEI FONG:

    It's doubtful. Here's the thing.

    Every country that's tried to put in place population controls have found it much more easier to turn off the baby tap, but when it comes time to turn on the baby tap, there's been virtually no country that's been able to succeed.

    Singapore, for example, which China has emulated for many things, Singapore tried to do something like this, although with a much less onerous kind of population planning policy. And now Singapore is saying, please, please, have more children. And the Singaporean women don't and can't and won't.

    And I think China will face similar problems. You know, right now — a couple years ago, they loosened the policy a little bit, but they found the take-up amongst people who are eligible to have the second child was very, very low. And I think this will be more of the same.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, we will certainly see.

    Mei Fong, who is coming out with a new book, China's one-child policy, we thank you.

  • MEI FONG:

    Thank you.

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