ROME — The Chinese Communist Party will never end the “one-child policy” because the policy is effectively terrorizing the Chinese people into keeping the Communist Party in power, according to Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, who gave testimony on April 30 to the U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China on the effects of the country’s population-control measures.
The 35th anniversary of the policy, which continues to impose forced abortions on countless Chinese mothers, will be marked on Sept. 25. In this May 8 interview with the Register in Rome, Littlejohn explains in more detail what is keeping the policy in place, why reports about China ending the policy are incorrect and why a more accurate name for it would be “China’s forced-abortion policy.”
What have been the effects of the one-child policy?
First of all, you have to look at the demographics. The Chinese Communist Party is very aware that its one-child policy has caused, and is continuing to cause, an increasing demographic disaster — in three ways.
One, because of the traditional preference for boys, girls are selectively aborted, so they have approximately 37-40 million more men than women living in China. This is driving human trafficking and human slavery in China and is also a recipe for domestic instability.
Two, they have a rapidly aging population. The reason why they instituted the one-child policy 35 years ago is that, during the Mao era, fertility rates among women became very high — 5.9 births per woman. Under the one-child policy, it has plummeted to approximately 1.3 to 1.5 births per woman, depending on who you ask. But the population explosion under the Mao era is now heading towards retirement, so they don’t have a young population to support that elderly population, and they don’t have social security as we know it. That’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Then the third problem is that China’s workforce is actually beginning to become depleted. 2013 was the first year when the trend went down, and the number of workers is going down. It’s actually too late. Taiwanese demographers say that the recent modification of the policy is too little, too late to stave off the threefold demographic disaster they’re heading into.
Why do they keep the policy?
China’s population problem isn’t that they have too many people — it’s that they have too few young people and too few women. I believe I can answer the unanswerable and explain the unexplainable. I believe that the reason the Chinese Communist Party has not abandoned and will never abandon the one-child policy is that the one-child policy is keeping them in place.
How does it keep them in place?
In four ways. No. 1, when the one-child policy was instituted 35 years ago, China was experiencing a population explosion, and I believe it was originally instituted as population control. The terror that is caused by forced abortion and forced sterilization was a by-product of the policy and was not the purpose of the policy. Now that the policy makes no sense whatsoever, I believe terror is the purpose of the policy.
China has many different human-rights abuses — they have problems in terms of executing prisoners to harvesting organs for transplant, persecuting of Christians, Falun Gong and other faiths, overuse of the death penalty and the detention of human-rights lawyers and journalists. All of these are human-rights abuses of the Chinese Communist Party, but they affect only a thin sliver of the society.
The one-child policy is unique because it affects everyone. It is a way for the Chinese Communist government to instill terror across the board in China and to demonstrate to people that the reach of its power extends from Beijing to every single woman in China — the power to declare life or death over the baby in that womb. That is terrifying. So I believe this is social control masquerading as population control.
The spirit of the “cultural revolution” lives on in the family-planning police. The family-planning police function as domestic terrorists; and in my opinion, forced abortion is official government rape. That’s what they’re doing to the population.
What are the other reasons for maintaining the policy?
The second reason is that they’re making a lot of money out of it. According to one estimate, the Chinese Communist Party has taken in $314 billion in fines through the family-planning police, so women are fined in all kinds of different circumstances. These fines are arbitrary; they’re not uniformly imposed throughout the country.
But if you get someone pregnant without a birth permit, a fine can be 10 times your annual salary. And these fines are completely not regulated. They’re not accounted for. There’s complete opacity, there’s no transparency in where this funding is going, and local officials have been accused of pocketing the money. So that’s a big reason not to get rid of the policy.
The third reason is that the family-planning officials, the family-planning police, form a wide infrastructure of coercion. According to one estimate, there are approximately 1 million people engaged in coerced population control in China. If that were a standing army, it would be the sixth-largest standing army in the world, on par with the army of North Korea. Social unrest is on the rise in China; it’s sharply increasing. They can use this army of family-planning police, turn it in any direction, to quash dissent in any direction. So why would they get rid of this elaborate infrastructure of coercion? They need it to keep the population down, to keep security in China.
The fourth reason, I believe, is to deliberately rupture the natural relationships of trust with the Chinese people. In China, they employ a system of paid informants, where anyone can inform on a woman who is pregnant without a birth permit.
It can be her neighbors, her friends, her co-workers, people in the villages, who are paid to look at women’s abdomens to see if they’re a little bit bigger. So since anyone can inform on you, there’s no relationship of trust.
Do you have any examples of this?
A couple of years ago, I testified in Congress about a woman who had had five forced abortions in a factory in China. She said that, in her work unit, if one person became illegally pregnant, the entire work unit would be punished, so all the women were spying on each other to report on each other about an illegal pregnancy. Then, if a woman runs away because she wants to have her baby, because she wants to run away from the family-planning police, they can detain her family, her parents, her husband and her extended family. They can be detained and tortured.
So if the one-child policy can be used to rupture relationships with family, friends, co-workers and neighbors, it can be used to keep down organizing for democracy. If you cannot trust anyone, you cannot organize for democracy.
Could China be forced to end the policy?
I don’t think that the Chinese Communist Party will ever abandon the one-child policy. What’s frustrating, for me, is there’s such a misunderstanding of the one-child policy, because it has been misnamed. The one-child policy is actually not a one-child policy: There are many exceptions to the policy, and the Chinese Communist Party is heading towards this demographic disaster and creating exceptions of small segments of population that can have another child.
There were media reports not long ago about China ending the policy. Can you explain why this was not correct?
On Jan. 1, 2014, they [the Chinese government] said if one member of a couple is an only child, that couple can have a second child. Because it’s called a one-child policy and a couple can have a second child, Western media blares out, “China Abandons One-Child Policy,” and people say, “Oh great, I’m so glad they’re not doing that anymore.”
But, actually, you need a birth permit for the first and second child. The core of the policy is not that the Chinese government allows a woman to have one child or two children. The core of the policy is that they’re telling people how many kids they can have, and they’re enforcing that limit coercively, including through forced abortion and forced sterilization.
It should really be called “China’s forced-abortion policy” because that doesn’t end. The forced-abortion policy doesn’t end, no matter how many children they allow you to have. So that would be a better name for the policy.
Of course, they didn’t name it that — because it sounds so terrible — but it’s much more accurate.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.