June 13, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Chinese President Xi Jinping called on top officials to step up efforts to maintain an “appropriate” birthrate and population level, after data in recent months showcased an intensifying demographic headwind for the world’s second-largest economy.

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In the first meeting of the Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission since October’s leadership reshuffle, Xi highlighted trends including a low birthrate, aging population and divergence across regions.

“We must fully understand and properly treat the new situations of our country’s demographic development,” Xi said, according to a readout posted on the central government’s website. It’s critical for China to focus on improving its population quality while keeping up an appropriate birthrate and population size, he said.

Xi called for improving Beijing’s population-development plans to meet the new situation. The message follows recent confirmation that China’s population started shrinking in 2022, for the first time in six decades — the latest milestone in a worsening demographic challenge.

The country’s workforce has fallen by more than 41 million people in the past three years, reflecting the coronavirus pandemic’s toll on the economy and a decline in the working-age population.

“The declining labor force and aging population is a reality rather than a problem, and there is no easy solution,” said Neo Wang, Evercore ISI’s New York-based managing director for China Research. “It takes 18 years to grow a worker. Focus has to be on lifting productivity. ”

Meanwhile, China has been overtaken by India as the world’s most populous nation, according to United Nations data released last month.

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Top officials at Friday’s meeting also promised to accelerate the building of a “full-fledged, advanced and secure” modern industrial system to maintain strategic advantage in future development and international competition, according to the statement.

Ensuring industrial security should be “the priority of priorities,” and more efforts should be made to achieve core technology breakthroughs, it said.

Premier Li Qiang attended the meeting as the commission’s deputy director. Xi’s chief of staff Cai Qi and Ding Xuexiang, a vice premier, were also present as members of the group.

–With assistance from Fran Wang.

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