China’s Lawmakers Prepare to Address Woeful Economy, Freezing Single Women’s Eggs

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general s
Wang Ye/Xinhua via AP

The Chinese government’s annual “two sessions” — simultaneous meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) — are scheduled to begin on Saturday, March 4.

This year’s sessions will likely be preoccupied with the dismal Chinese economy, the accelerating demographic crisis, and the rotation of government officials that occurs every five years.

The NPC is Communist China’s rubber-stamp legislature, which makes a great show of deliberating, reflecting, and then unanimously deciding to do whatever dictator Xi Jinping wants. The CPPCC is an advisory body without any power to make policy. According to its own billing, it represents “the patriotic united front of the Chinese people” and serves as “an important means of promoting socialist democracy.”

In practical terms, the CPPCC is a prestigious club for well-connected members of the Chinese Communist Party that spends most of its time legitimizing whatever the Party and its master Xi Jinping want to do. It occasionally serves as a vehicle for its members to bring ideas to the Party’s attention without embarrassing high officials or implying that the authoritarian government might have overlooked something important.

Such would appear to be the case at the Two Sessions of 2023, as CPPCC member and reproductive health expert Lu Weiying plans to present a proposal for freezing the eggs of single women so they can get pregnant later in life.

China admitted to its first net population decline since 1962 in January and many observers believe the demographic crisis began years earlier. As with most industrialized nations, population decline will leave China with fewer young workers to pay for the benefits of a growing elderly population — and, as with other nations, a big part of the problem is that educated, career-minded women wish to postpone child-rearing until they have earned their fortunes.

Lu’s idea for mitigating this demographic trend is freezing the eggs of fertile young women so they can have children later in life, a process that is currently illegal in China due to health concerns and fears that eggs might be trafficked and sold for profit. Lu proposed testing the waters by creating some pilot programs for egg-freezing and in vitro fertilization (IVF), which is also presently illegal in China.

The Straits Times noted on Tuesday that China’s northeastern province of Jilin already launched an IVF pilot program 20 years ago, but it had little effect on the region’s low birth rates. Presumably, Lu hopes that expanding IVF nationwide would make it available to more couples who are eager to have children.

Lu further told Chinese state media that she wants to resurrect a suspended initiative to add various fertility treatments to medical insurance – an admittedly expensive proposition, although she argued that putting treatment on the insurance schedule and treating fertility problems early would save money in the long run. She also supports much-discussed proposals to subsidize childbirth in various ways, from longer maternity leave to cheaper babysitters, so more Chinese women would opt to have children.

China’s sputtering economy will be a hot topic at the Two Sessions but, of course, the state-run Global Times on Monday rambled about a nervous recessionary world looking hopefully to Beijing for leadership:

This year’s two sessions have already attracted widespread domestic and global attention due to a confluence of factors, including a global economic downturn, China’s ongoing solid economic recovery after claiming victory against COVID-19, and the fact that 2023 is a crucial year in China’s social and economic development and political agenda following the successful conclusion of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in October 2022. 

Already, foreign media have been speculating about potential personnel changes as well as social and economic development goals and policies during the upcoming two sessions. Generally, higher economic targets and intensified policy measures are expected, offering a significant boost for the troubled global economy, according to analysts and recent tone-setting meetings and official statements. 

… As China lifted anti-epidemic measures and declared victory against COVID-19, the Chinese economy has embarked on a fast recovery track, reflected in a growing number of indicators, including increased consumption and expanded manufacturing activity. As such, many domestic and foreign institutions are expecting a GDP growth rate of above 5 percent in China this year. The International Monetary Fund, for example, forecast a 5.2 percent-growth compared to a 2.9-percent global growth.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) was less optimistic on Tuesday, noting that much of China’s valuable financial and human capital was driven away by the coronavirus pandemic and its endless lockdowns, and the departed might not return soon.

Another SCMP forecast for the Two Sessions anticipated Xi and other top Chinese Communist Party officials would emphasize “stability” and “pragmatism” in the twice-per-decade transition of bureaucrats, in a somewhat desperate effort to signal that the tumultuous days of Xi’s madcap citywide coronavirus lockdowns are gone for good.

Some of the SCMP’s observers predicted the Two Sessions would begin relaxing Beijing’s regulatory grip on technology companies, which grew very tight indeed after Xi perceived certain upstart tech moguls as challenging his grip on power. The Communist Party has been signaling that the crackdown is over for several months, but the tech sector remains nervous.

The SCMP noted this five-year turnover will give Xi a chance to finish purging loyalists of his predecessor Hu Jintao from the bureaucracy, replacing them with his own devoted followers.

In addition to greater personal loyalty to Xi, the new class of Chinese officials can be expected to have great enthusiasm for Xi’s policies of technology security and independence for China – which has raided the Western world with aggressive espionage and technology theft for decades, and now wishes to develop clear leads in cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence. 

Xi’s notion of independence would also help insulate China from the consequences if the rest of the world gets serious about “decoupling” due to human rights concerns or pandemic fears. At the moment, many international concerns that were happy to take advantage of China’s cheap labor for decades have been shifting at least some of their business to alternative venues.


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