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China’s population has reached 1.38 billion – a whopping 18.47% of the total world population. The country’s relaxation of its one-child policy led to the highest number of births for 17 years in 2016.  More than 18.46 million babies were born in mainland hospitals in 2016 – 11.5 per cent more than 2015, state-run media Global Times reported.

Yet, these numbers are still below previous estimates. China’s family planning agency had estimated that allowing every Chinese couple to have two babies could push annual new births up to 20 million.

Since the early 1980s the authorities had banned most mainland families from having more than one child. But facing an ageing society and shrinking work force, Beijing announced in 2013 – after President Xi Jinping came to power – that couples would be allowed to have two children as long as one parent was an only child. The easing of the child-birth restriction was expanded to a universal two-child policy allowing all couples to have two children from January 1 2016.

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China now has the lowest fertility rate of any country in the world, according to recent figures compiled by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Data published in the China Statistical Yearbook 2016 showed that China recorded a total fertility rate (TFR) of just 1.05 for 2015 — the lowest fertility rate of any country in the world. The TFR is the number of children a woman would be expected to have if she lived to the end of her childbearing years.

The end of China’s one-child policy in early 2016 may result in a short-term spike in birth rates, but the country’s population is undeniably facing a sharp decline over the next few decades.

Worse still, the nation’s population problem is being compounded by a serious gender imbalance.

More male than female babies are born in the country every year, a difference that is 10% greater than in an average country. This means that a total fertility rate of 1.05 in China will have the same impact on population size as a 1.0 TFR in a developed country.

Evidence accumulated over the past 20 years strongly suggests that China has already fallen into the “low-fertility trap”.

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