China's population, currently at over 1.4 billion, is likely to start declining as early as next year, ending a five-decade trend of growth, the Global Times, a tabloid affiliated with the ruling Communist Party, reported Thursday.
Amid mounting concern that the possible shrinkage of the population could undermine economic development, the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping has become more cautious about dealing with demographic data, sources close to the matter said.
If the population decreases in China, it would be the first since the catastrophic Great Leap Forward from 1958 through the early 1960s, regarded as misguided economic policy initiated by Mao Zedong, caused millions of people to starve at home.
The Global Times said the country's government may be forced to implement measures to encourage births in the next few years, such as subsidizing couples who choose to have more than one baby, adding China should avoid "becoming another Japan."
China carried out a once-a-decade population census between November and December last year. Although the National Bureau of Statistics said it would release the results in early April, it has postponed doing so.
The population of China, excluding Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, exceeded 1.4 billion by the end of 2019 for the first time since Mao founded the Communist-led People's Republic of China in 1949, according to government data.
China's population, meanwhile, has been aging due largely to its decades-long "one-child policy." The policy, introduced in 1979, was scrapped in 2016 with fears growing that a rapidly aging population could constrain the nation's economic expansion.
The government has recently allowed all married couples to have their second child, but a baby boom has not occurred in China so far.