Three child policy lessons for India, Galwan anniversary, BRICS, and Xi's message on messaging

Welcome to today's issue of The India China Newsletter. I'll be looking at:

- The three child policy is here — what are the demographic lessons for India?
- The jailing of Qiu Ziming for his comments on the Galwan Valley clash, just ahead of the one-year anniversary
- Wang Yi's comments at the BRICS foreign ministers' virtual summit
- Xi's message to China's diplomats and propaganda officials on the importance of international messaging

The big news this week was the announcement of the three-child policy following a Politburo meeting on Monday. Xinhua's readout:

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, on Monday chaired a meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee to hear reports on major policy measures to actively address the aging of the population during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025).

The meeting reviewed a decision on improving birth policies to promote long-term balanced population growth.

The meeting stressed that proactively responding to the aging population directly relates to the country's development and people's well-being, and it is an important measure to achieve the high-quality development of the economy and safeguard national security and social stability.

The meeting called for efforts to raise the statutory retirement age in a steady and gradual manner, improve a multi-level system for pension and aged-care social protection, explore building a systematic framework for long-term nursing insurance and accelerate the building of the systems for elderly care and health support that combine elderly care, health and medical services to be available both at homes and within communities.

It also pledged enhanced financial investment in relevant regards and improvements to the fiscal policies and financing mechanism for the development of old-age programs, so as to provide necessary guarantees for the country's efforts in proactively responding to the population aging.

China has a large population, and the aging of its population has been increasing in extent in recent years, the meeting said.

The meeting acknowledged the progress of major birth policies adopted by the Party's central authorities since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012.

China in 2013 allowed couples to have a second child if either parent was an only child, and in 2016 allowed couples to have two children, phasing out the one-child policy.

COMMENT: Neither of those measures seemed to have worked in boosting birth rates, pointing to broader factors such as costs in shaping preferences beyond the birth restrictions. The Politburo meeting did acknowledge some of those problems and pledged to tackle them:

The meeting said China will support couples that wish to have a third child, noting that implementing the policy and relevant supporting measures will help improve China's population structure, actively respond to the aging population, and preserve the country's human resource advantages.

The meeting demanded efforts to implement a third-child policy in accordance with the law, and to advance birth policies in alignment with relevant economic and social policies.

Education and guidance should be provided to promote marriage and family values among marriage-age young people, the meeting determined.

Efforts are needed to improve prenatal and postnatal care services, develop a universal childcare services system, promote fairness in education, increase the supply of quality educational resources, and reduce family spending on education.

China should also continue to implement its current reward and assistance system as well as preferential policies for families with one child and rural families with only two daughters who were born before the implementation of the two-child policy.

The meeting urged efforts to deepen the national medium- and long-term population development strategy and regional population development planning to promote long-term and balanced population development.

The Wall Street Journal summed up the broad reaction to the announcement.

”It is hard to imagine what we will have to face if we have more children and our parents are not able to help us with the delayed retirement,” said Wang Shuo, a 31-year-old lawyer in Shenzhen who married last year but has no children.

On China’s Twitter -like Weibo platform, the new birth policy was greeted with widespread derision.

“I’m not buying three Rolls-Royces not because there’s any restriction, but because they’re expensive,” read one widely-shared post, comparing children with the British luxury auto brand.

“If two only children get married, then they will have to take care of four parents, three children and retire at 65,” read another widely-shared post. “Donkeys have a better life than this.”

This insightful paper from last year (thanks to Simon Rabinovitch for sharing on Twitter) explains why the loosening of 2013 and 2016 didn't really work, and why, unless some of those structural factors are addressed -- which is by no means going to be straightforward -- this is unlikely to work too:

Using China’s 2015 population census combined with a difference-in-differences framework, we find that the adoption of a two-child policy substantially increases the number of second-child births. The impact of the policy is more pronounced among couples who have higher fertility preferences and who are less sensitive to child-rearing costs. At the same time, this policy substantially decreases the number of first-child births. Child-rearing costs are a likely underlying mechanism for this decrease.

Reactions and cautionary notes from population experts in India, via my colleague Jagriti Chandra, whose piece you can read here:

“India can learn from China’s failed experience of enforcing coercive population policies. Stringent population control measures have landed China in a human crisis that was inevitable. If coercive measures like a two-child limit are enforced, India’s situation could be worse,” says Poonam Muttreja of Population Foundation of India. “Within three decades, we will end up with the same issues of an ageing population and very few people to take care of them. In Sikkim and Lakshadweep we will be facing similar challenges of an ageing population as well as shrinking workforce given that they have low fertility rates.”

India has long been concerned about curbing population ‘explosion’, but needs to focus its attention on population stabilisation instead.

“India has done very well with its family planning measures and now we are at replacement level fertility of 2.1, which is desirable. We don’t need any coercive measures. But we need to sustain population stabilisation because in some States like Sikkim, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Kerala and Karnataka the total fertility rate is way below replacement level, which means we will experience in 30-40 years what China is experiencing now,” says Niranjan Saggurti, Director, Population Council of India....

With China’s fertility rates expected to drop in the coming years, demographers have predicted that India may overtake China as the most populous country by 2023 or 2024, but this should not be a cause for worry and be turned into an opportunity, argues Abhijit Das, Managing Trustee, Centre for Health and Social Justice. “India should not be worried about being the most populous country, instead it should focus on improving employability of its youth to improve productivity to fuel economic growth. Instead we are wasting our demographic dividend."

South China Morning Post on the jailing of journalist and blogger Qiu Ziming, who had, in February, questioned China’s accounts of the June 15, 2020 Galwan Valley clash:

Qiu Ziming, whose online name is “La Bi Xiao Qiu”, has 2.5 million followers on China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo.

He was sentenced to eight months in prison for “infringing on the reputation of heroes and martyrs”, and ordered to make a public apology, according to a report on Tuesday in People’s Daily, a Chinese state-controlled tabloid. Qiu, 38, a former reporter with The Economic Observer weekly newspaper, published two posts on Weibo in February, suggesting that a commander named Qi Fabao, who was badly wounded in the clash, survived because he was the highest ranking officer there. He also suggested that more Chinese soldiers were killed than were reported in the official death toll.

The comments came after the Chinese military broke months of silence on the matter to say that four Chinese soldiers were killed and one was seriously wounded in the clash in the disputed Himalayas border last year. China also released a clip of the clash, showing Qi walking towards Indian troops with open arms and trying to stop them from further advancing towards the Chinese troops’ side. Qiu’s Weibo account was shut down on the day he posted the remarks. He was detained the next day for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, an offence that has been criticised as targeting critics, and then formally charged with the crime of “infringing on the reputation and honour of heroes and martyrs”.

It's going to be one year since the June 15, 2020 Galwan clash. The BBC visited areas close to the LAC in Ladakh near Pangong Tso:

Visits to the lake have been rare since - travellers were only allowed to return in January, and the BBC is one of few media outlets to reach villages like Merak, home to around 350 people, many of them nomads. Here, though, life goes on much as it did before, women in their traditional attire tend to yaks and pashmina goats, and the village seems relatively untouched by coronavirus pandemic.

There are reminders here and there of the lurking danger that overshadows the picture postcard scenery: army vehicles carry supplies and soldiers frequent the newly-laid single lane road to the fortified forward areas. For decades, the simmering tension between India and China has overshadowed this region.

"During winter, our people from here and the nearby Chushul area used to take Yaks and goats to graze in the mountains on the other side," Mr Dorjay said. "But over the years the Chinese have gradually taken over Indian territory and the grazing areas have reduced...."

"From the Chinese point of view, Indian soldiers have been building roads and other infrastructure in Ladakh's Galwan valley, which according to China falls under its territory," Zhou Bo, a retired Senior Colonel in the People's Liberation Army, told the BBC.

"From the Chinese side we insist on the traditional customary line as China-India border while India insists on the Line of Actual Control before the war in 1962," he said. "But there is a fundamental difference over where the Line of Actual Control lies."

The Hindustan Times reports:

China’s People Liberation Army (PLA) has integrated elements of the air force and army to create a combined air defence system for its western theatre command that is responsible for operations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the latest in a series of moves indicating a strengthening of its positions in the region.

The move follows numerous reports of China moving in new military equipment and formations into Tibet and Xinjiang, and bolstering air defence and missile positions and airports on its side of the LAC amid a border standoff with India that began more than a year ago.

People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that PLA had, for the first time, integrated army air defence units in the air force’s chain of command in the western theatre command to create a combined air defence control system.

This new system was put through its paces during a recent exercise at an unknown location under the western theatre command, which saw army elements jointly training with the air force while command and control was exercised by the air force, the people said.

China and Pakistan are also exercising in Tibet, reports Ajay Banerjee in The Tribune:

In a new development along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), China and Pakistan are conducting a joint military exercise in Tibet. It has two-pronged goals — targeting warships, besides launching land attack from sea; and honing air-defence skills to target enemy aircraft, missiles or UAVs.

The exercise comes in the backdrop of a recent move of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has, for the first time, integrated its units with air-defence assets with PLA-Air Force (PLAAF) along the LAC.

The exercise, which reportedly started on May 22, is scheduled to end in the middle of this week.

China and Pakistan often exercise together. This year, the drill comes in the backdrop of around 1-year military standoff between India and China in eastern Ladakh. The number of Pakistan troops taking part in the exercise is not known. From the Chinese side, troops of the 3 Air Defence Division are participating in it.

The BRICS Foreign Ministers met virtually. Wang Yi had a lot of praise for India as this year's chair, and there wasn’t a hint of the bilateral troubles:

Let me begin by once again expressing my sympathy to India over the severe impact of the new wave of the COVID-19 infections.  At this trying time China stands in solidarity with India and all BRICS countries.

As long as it is needed by India, I believe that all BRICS partners including China will provide further support and assistance at any time and we are fully confident that India will certainly overcome the pandemic.

BRICS cooperation now faces the profound and complex ramifications of the pandemic and changes unseen in a century. This is a challenge to the BRICS countries but opportunities could also emerge from a crisis.  We believe that with all of us joining forces, BRICS will surely display its unique value and play a due role.

Since the beginning of the year and despite the impact of the COVID-19, India as BRICS chair has worked vigorously focussing on the theme of Intra BRICS Cooperation for Continuity, Consolidation and Consensus.

More than hundred events have been designed to advance cooperation on the three pillars, strengthen the BRICS mechanism and uphold the momentum of BRICS cooperation.

China commends India for its efforts and we are ready to work with BRICS countries to support India as the Chair and  ensure tangible outcomes in this year’s BRICS cooperation. I Look forward to exchanging views, coordinating positions and building consensus with you on issues of shared interests to help this meeting a success.

Together we will take a solid step towards a deeper cooperation in the political and security fields and lay strong foundation for this year’s summit.    

The BRICS ministers put out a joint statement on multilateralism:

They reaffirmed the principles of non-intervention in the internal affairs of States and the resolution of international disputes by peaceful means and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law as well as the inadmissibility of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes and principles of the United Nations. They stressed further the imperative of refraining from any coercive measures not based on international law and the UN Charter.

COMMENT: Good thing, I suppose, it isn’t like any of the BRICS members happen to be a year into a border crisis triggered by the use of force against territorial integrity of a state to settle an international dispute...

There was also the full joint statement in addition to the above, which has everything from Iran and Syria to Israel-Palestine and Afghanistan — and also mentions the BRICS voicing support for China's hosting of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, amid some calls in the West for a boycott over Xinjiang, most recently from Nancy Pelosi.

Interesting comments from the Afghan envoy in Beijing - the Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan and China will meet virtually on Thursday, the fourth such dialogue:

A prominent advantage that China enjoys is that it has good relations with both Afghanistan and Pakistan and can play a critical role in building trust between these two neighboring countries, and the trust is the real thing that will bring long-lasting peace in the region, said the ambassador…

"Afghanistan being a stable country is in favor of countries such as the US, China and India. It is more important how we and Pakistan can build trust and how China and India can build trust regarding Afghanistan regardless of other issues. It is about peace in the whole region," said the ambassador.

And finally...

Xi Jinping, at a group study session of the Politburo, spoke about the importance of 'international communication'. From Xinhua:

Although China's influence on international discourse has notably improved since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, the country faces new situations and tasks, he said.

Xi stressed greater efforts to construct China's own discourse and narrative, interpreting China's practices by its own theories. He called for using new concepts, domains and expressions to better tell China's stories and the spiritual strength behind the stories.

On CPC's publicity, Xi urged greater efforts to help foreign audiences understand what the Party is pursuing is nothing but the Chinese people's well-being.

He also emphasized the efforts to introduce the Chinese culture abroad and strive to shape a reliable, admirable and respectable image of China.

Xi emphasized extensively promoting China's stand, wisdom and approach as the country has the ability as well as the responsibility to play a bigger role in global affairs and make greater contributions to jointly solving problems of humanity with other countries.

He said multilateralism must be promoted while unilateralism and hegemonism should be opposed so as to guide the international community to jointly shape a more just and equitable international order and forge a new type of international relations.

Xi called for carrying out people-to-people exchanges, cultivating capable professionals for international communication, studying its theories and better grasping its laws, so as to increase the appeal and effectiveness of the country's international communication and enlarge the circle of friends who understand China.

Bloomberg’s report on his message:

The remarks suggest that Xi may be rethinking his communication strategy on the global stage as President Joe Biden works to bolster U.S. relationships weakened under his predecessor’s “America First” policies. Xi has cast aside the party’s decades-old “hide-and-bide” strategy of keeping a low international profile in favor of a “big country diplomacy.”

China’s has increasingly hit back against perceived violations of its core interests by foreign countries with trade measures, travel bans and diplomatic protests -- an approach sometimes criticized as “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy. That style has been blamed for diplomatic setbacks with partners that appeared open to closer ties with Beijing, such as the European Union and the Philippines.

Wang Yiwei, director of Renmin University’s Institute of International Affairs and a former Chinese diplomat, said China’s more assertive diplomacy came in response to those in the West who cast the country as a threat. But that has failed to satisfy both domestic and international audiences, he said.

“China’s image in the West has deteriorated since the pandemic, and this needs to be taken seriously,” he said. “The growth in China’s power needs to be accepted by the world. That would be the real growth of power.”

COMMENT: I think this may be overstating it. I'm not buying that there is a rethink — or that the 'wolf warrior' messaging of the past many months is on its way out, or for that matter, the idea that it hasn't come without a seal of approval from the top. At the very least, the messengers certainly believed the top has liked it that way…

That’s it for this issue, thanks for reading. Stay safe, and see you soon.