A powerful Chinese government think tank is urging the country's leaders to start phasing out its one-child policy immediately and allow two children for every family by 2015, a bold proposal coming from the China Development Research Foundation, which is part of China's establishment.
However, for some demographers, the Foundation's timeline is unfeasible given the size of the population and the rigidity of the current policy. For others, it would be better to implement changes gradually. Even then, little could be done, given the effects of existing limits on having children.
The proposed changes are in a report set for release "in a week or two," the Foundation said. Having received an advanced copy, Xinhua states that the paper recommends a two-child policy in some provinces from this year, a nationwide two-child policy by 2015, and all birth limits dropped by 2020.
"China has paid a huge political and social cost for the policy, as it has resulted in social conflict, high administrative costs and led indirectly to a long-term gender imbalance at birth," said Xinhua, citing the document.
Adopted under Deng Xiaoping at the end of the 1970s, the one-child policy is the basis for China's family planning. It aimed at limiting population growth, but has also generated social imbalances.
In fact, the country is saddled with about 100 million men who are currently unable to find a wife. At the same time, the population is aging fast, and young couples today can expect to maintain a child and six senior citizens over their lifetime.
According to some conservative calculations, the law has killed 200 million people with officials often enforcing the law with violence and heavy handedness, abusing pregnant women and their babies. Recently, such behaviour has been criticised, partly because of the Internet.
It is not clear what the government will do or how it will respond to the Foundation's proposals. As the Communist Party of China prepares to hold its congress on 8 November, which will mark the rise of "fifth generation" of leaders, it is remarkable that such proposals would actually come from within the ranks and this is sending a strong signal.
Gu Baochang, a professor of demography at Beijing's Renmin University, disagrees. For him, the proposed timeline is not aggressive enough. "They should have reformed this policy ages ago," he said.