Chinese think tank urges end to one-child policy

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BEIJING -- A 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 daring proposal to do away with the unpopular policy.

Some demographers see the timeline put forward by the China Development Research Foundation as a bold move by the body, which is close to the central leadership. Others warn that the gradual approach, if implemented, would still be insufficient to help correct the problems that China's strict birth limits have created.

Xie Meng, a foundation press affairs official, said the report's final version will be released "in a week or two." But Chinese state media have been given advance copies. The official Xinhua News Agency said the foundation recommends a two-child policy in some provinces from this year and a nationwide two-child policy by 2015. It proposes that all birth limits be dropped by 2020, Xinhua reported.

"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," Xinhua said, citing the report.

But it remains unclear whether Chinese leaders are ready to take up the recommendations. China's National Population and Family Planning Commission had no immediate comment on the report Wednesday.

Known to many as the one-child policy, China's actual rules are more complicated. The government limits most urban couples to one child, and allows two children for rural families if their first-born is a girl. There are numerous other exceptions as well, including looser rules for minority families and a two-child limit for parents who are themselves both singletons.

Cai Yong, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said the report holds extra weight because the think tank is under the State Council, China's Cabinet. He said he found it remarkable that state-backed demographers were publicly willing to propose such a detailed schedule and plan for how to get rid of China's birth limits.

"That tells us at least that policy change is inevitable, [that] it's coming," said Mr. Cai, who knows many of the experts who were involved in drafting the report. He is currently a visiting scholar at Shanghai's Fudan University.

Adding to the uncertainty is a once-in-a-decade top leadership transition that kicks off Thursday.

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