After weeks of speculation that Red China would relax its one-child policy, the National Population and Family Planning Commission said it would not make any changes in the country’s population-control policy for at least a decade. Beijing has faced criticism from pro-life groups over its one-child policy, because officials have often resorted to coerced abortions, sterilizations and, occasionally, infanticide to enforce the law. The United States has withheld funding from the UN Population Fund because of its support for China’s population policy, although Canada still gives money to that fund.

On March 2, Wu Jianmin, a spokesman for the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a 2,200-member political advisory body, indicated the communist country would rethink its one-child policy. “As things develop, there might be some changes to the policy and relevant departments are considering this.”

The next day, Zhang Wieqing, an official with the population commission, told the officialChina Daily that the one-child policy has proven itself to be “compatible with national conditions. So it has to be kept unchanged at this time to ensure stable and balanced population growth.”

Yet, Professor Wang Feng, a demographer at the University of California, Irvine, says the number of Chinese people over the age of 60 will increase vastly over the next seven years. He also predicted a “precipitous” drop in the number of births and the number of women of reproductive age. He said the country faces a number of challenges, including a massive gender imbalance, a declining labour supply and unfathomable consequences for a culture in which elderly parents have traditionally relied on their children for support.

Yet Zhang argues, “It would cause serious problems and add extra pressure on social and economic development” to abandon the one-child policy.

Wang says the Population and Family Planning Commission are confused about “China’s demographic reality, which is very low fertility and accelerated aging” and implying that the confusion is deliberate, “as excuses for not moving forward with phasing out the one-child policy.”

Also in March, the U.S. State Department’s annual report on international human rights outlined the official abuses that take place in China in enforcing the one-child policy, including fines of 10 times a couple’s annual income, detention, job loss and demotion and “psychological and economic pressures.”

The report said, “The penalties sometimes left women with little practical choice but to undergo abortion or sterilization.”