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China aim relax birth policy but wary of social risks, sources say

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China will tread carefully in relaxing its birth policies for fear of harming social stability, even as the latest census highlights the urgency to address the country’s declining birth trends and ageing population, policy sources said.

Expectations for birth policy reforms are rising after the 2020 census last week showed China’s population grew at its slowest in the last decade since the 1950s as births declined and ageing accelerated.

A fertility rate of 1.3 children per woman in 2020, on par with ageing societies like Japan and Italy, underscores the risk for China: the world’s second-biggest economy may already be in irreversible population decline without having first accumulated the household wealth of G7 nations.

Top leaders are working out a broader plan to cope with demographic challenges, the sources said, including more effective ways to encourage childbearing by easing financial burdens on couples, rather than simply removing birth curbs.

Raising the retirement age, which Beijing has said will be done gradually, will help slow a decline in the workforce and eventually ease pressures on the under-funded pension system, they said.

China introduced a controversial “one-child policy” in the late 1970s but relaxed restrictions in 2016 to allow all couples to have two children as it tried to rebalance its rapidly-ageing population. The change, however, failed to halt declining births.

The sources said they expect Beijing to encourage more childbearing under the current policy framework, before fully lifting birth restrictions over the next 3-5 years.

Removing birth restrictions could have unintended consequences: a limited impact on city dwellers, who are reluctant to have more children due to high costs, while rural families could expand faster, adding to poverty and employment pressures, the sources said.

“If we free up policy, people in the countryside could be more willing to give birth than those in the cities, and there could be other problems,” said a policy source who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

The sources are involved in policy discussions but not the final decision-making process.

The State Council Information Office did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

China aims to create at least 10 million new urban jobs a year, even as the working age population shrinks.

Liu Huan, an adviser to the Chinese cabinet, said China’s main population challenge is not size but ageing, which will put heavy pressure on government finances.

“It’s hard to resolve the birth problem given high housing, medical and education costs,” he told Reuters. “So we should have comprehensive policies.”

CALLS FOR CHANGE

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) has in recent weeks become more vocal about the sensitive population issue.

In April, the PBOC said in a working paper that China should “fully liberalise and vigorously encourage childbirth” to offset the economic impact, saying China should draw lessons from Japan’s “lost 20 years”.

The demographic shifts could lead to economic stagnation, a falling savings rate and asset price deflation, while the current pension system is ill-prepared for the ageing trajectory, it said.

The proportion of people aged 65 and above hit 13.5% in 2020, up from 8.87% in 2010.

But changes to the present policy will likely be gradual.

“Major policy decisions will come only when the pressure is big enough. Whether we change policy depends on assessments of the impact on social stability,” said a government adviser, who also declined to be named.

TALENT DIVIDEND

Deepening rivalry with the United States has raised the urgency for China to build a more innovation-driven economy. Under President Xi Jinping’s “dual circulation” strategy, China aims to ease dependence on overseas markets and technology.

“We should make a transition from population dividend to talent dividend,” the first policy source said.

The census showed improved education over the last decade. The proportion of people with university education rose to 15.5% from 8.9%, and average years of schooling for people aged 15 or above edged up to 9.9 years from 9.1 years.

Rob Subbaraman, chief economist at Nomura, said “reducing demographic headwinds” will be a rising priority for China as it seeks to avoid the so-called middle income trap.

“The experiences of other Asian countries show that it is challenging to encourage society to increase the fertility rate, but all efforts should be tried to increase the labour force and make it more productive.”

(Editing by Tony Munroe and Jacqueline Wong)

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Trudeau says he discussed border with Biden, but no deal

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Sunday he has spoken with U.S. President Joe Biden about how to lift pandemic-related border restrictions between the two countries but made clear no breakthrough has been achieved.

U.S. and Canadian business leaders have voiced increasing concern about the ban on non-essential travel in light of COVID-19 that was first imposed in March 2020 and renewed on a monthly basis since then. The border measures do not affect trade flows.

The border restrictions have choked off tourism between the two countries. Canadian businesses, especially airlines and those that depend on tourism, have been lobbying the Liberal government to relax the restrictions.

Canada last week took a cautious first step, saying it was prepared to relax quarantine protocols for fully vaccinated citizens returning home starting in early July.

Trudeau, speaking after a Group of Seven summit in Britain, said he had talked to Biden “about coordinating measures at our borders as both our countries move ahead with mass vaccination.” Canada is resisting calls for the border measures to be relaxed, citing the need for more people to be vaccinated.

The United States is ahead of Canada in terms of vaccination totals.

“We will continue to work closely together on moving forward in the right way but each of us always will put at the forefront the interests and the safety of our own citizens,” Trudeau told a televised news conference when asked the Biden conversation.

“Many countries, like Canada, continue to say that now is not the time to travel,” Trudeau added, though he said it is important to get back to normalcy as quickly as possible.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Will Dunham)

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Man with 39 wive dies in India

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A 76-year-old man who had 39 wives and 94 children and was said to be the head of the world’s largest family has died in north east India, the chief minister of his home state said.

Ziona Chana, the head of a local Christian sect that allows polygamy, died on Sunday, Zoramthanga, the chief minister of Mizoram and who goes by one name, said in a tweet.

With a total of 167 members, the family is the world’s largest, according to local media, although this depends on whether you count the grandchildren, of whom Ziona has 33.

Winston Blackmore, the head of a polygamous Mormon sect in Canada, has around 150 children from 27 wives – 178 people in total.

Ziona lived with his family in a vast, four-story pink structure with around 100 rooms in Baktawng, a remote village in Mizoram that became a tourist attraction as a result, according to Zoramthanga.

The sect, named “Chana”, was founded by Ziona’s father in 1942 and has a membership of hundreds of families. Ziona married his first wife when he was 17, and claimed he once married ten wives in a single year.

They shared a dormitory near his private bedroom, and locals said he liked to have seven or eight of them by his side at all times.

Despite his family’s huge size, Ziona told Reuters in a 2011 interview he wanted to grow it even further.

“I am ready to expand my family and willing to go to any extent to marry,” he said.

“I have so many people to care for and look after, and I consider myself a lucky man.”

 

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Adnan Abidi in New Delhi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Huawei CFO seeks publication ban on HSBC documents in U.S. extradition case

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Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on Monday will seek to bar publication of documents her legal team received from HSBC, a request opposed by Canadian prosecutors in her U.S. extradition case who say it violates the principles of open court.

Meng’s legal team will present arguments in support of the ban in the British Columbia Supreme Court.

Meng, 49, was arrested at Vancouver International Airport in December 2018 on a warrant from the United States, where she faces charges of bank fraud for allegedly misleading HSBC about Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s business dealings in Iran and potentially causing the bank to break U.S. sanctions on business in Iran.

She has been under house arrest in Vancouver for more than two years and fighting her extradition to the United States. Meng has said she is innocent.

Lawyers for Huawei and HSBC in Hong Kong agreed to a release of the documents in April to Meng’s legal team on the condition that they “use reasonable effort” to keep confidential information concealed from the public, according to submissions filed by the defense on Friday.

Prosecutors representing the Canadian government argued against the ban, saying in submissions filed the same day that “to be consistent with the open court principle, a ban must be tailored” and details should be selectively redacted from the public, rather than the whole documents.

A consortium of media outlets, including Reuters News, also opposes the ban.

The open court principle requires that court proceedings be open and accessible to the public and to the media.

It is unclear what documents Huawei obtained from HSBC, but defense lawyers argue they are relevant to Meng’s case.

Meng’s hearing was initially set to wrap up in May but Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes granted an extension to allow the defense to read through the new documents.

Hearings in the extradition case are scheduled to finish in late August.

 

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Howard Goller)

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