Insight: The backroom battle delaying reform of China's one-child policy

Mon Apr 8, 2013 6:49pm EDT
 
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By Sui-Lee Wee and Hui Li

BEIJING (Reuters) - Two retired senior Chinese officials are engaged in a battle with one another to sway Beijing's new leadership over the future of the one-child policy, exposing divisions that have impeded progress in a crucial area of reform.

The policy, introduced in the late 1970s to prevent population growth spiraling out of control, has long been opposed by human rights and religious groups but is also now regarded by many experts as outdated and harmful to the economy.

Former State Councilors Song Jian and Peng Peiyun, who once ranked above cabinet ministers and remain influential, have been lobbying China's top leaders, mainly behind closed doors: Song wants them to keep the policy while Peng urges them to phase it out, people familiar with the matter said.

Their unresolved clash could suggest the leadership remains torn over one of China's most divisive social issues, said a recently retired family planning official. How quickly it is settled may shed light on whether new President Xi Jinping will ease family-planning controls on a nation of 1.3 billion people.

"The government needs to take care of the various voices," the former family planning official said.

For decades, Peng and Song - both octogenarians - have helped shape China's family planning policy, which has seen only gradual change in the face of a rapidly ageing population that now bears little resemblance to the youthful China of the 1970s.

They have starkly different views of China's demographics.

From 1988 to 1998 Peng, 83, was in charge of implementing the one-child policy as head of the Family Planning Commission. In the mid 1990s she became Beijing's highest ranking woman, serving as state councilor, a position superior to a minister.   Continued...

 
A child watches the diving competition at the National Aquatics Center during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in this August 11, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/Files