Current issues facing China
The rise of the middle classes
The rise of the middles classes in China is phenomenal, and it has grown hand in hand withChina’s economic development. Current estimates range from 100 million to 250 million, with forecasts predicting 700 million middle class people by 2020.
The imbalance of wealth
The uneven distribution of social wealth has created major social and economic issues for the government and will influence the path of China’s development in the future. In addition, the growth of the number of people on low salaries is thwarting the government’s efforts to stimulate domestic demand and reduce the economy’s dependence on investment and trade.
China is suffering from an imbalance in social and economic development between different regions, between urban and rural areas, and in income generation.
The state has diminished control over population distribution, labour market development, population censorship methods and the accuracy of the population statistics. About 62% of the population lives in the rural areas but economists are predicting that by 2035 almost 70% of the population will live in urban areas. Naturally, this huge migration to the city will have a massive impact on the social and welfare state as well as on the environment, which the government is having to address through its policy decisions. It has also led to unemployment and redundancy resulting in poverty amongst a significant part of the population.
An ageing nation
Since the end of 2000, China has become an ageing nation. China’s elderly population is growing significantly. This is as a result of the strict one-child policy, introduced in 1979, in an attempt to control China’s booming population. There are currently 130 million elderly residents, equating to just over 10% of the population. Predictions are that it will have increased to 342 million in 20 years’ time and by 2050 the country’s median age is likely to be 45 up from 30 currently. The infrastructure and social services for the elderly do not meet the demand. Meanwhile, more recently, a growing resentment has surfaced among some of the young, resulting in lawsuits being filed by their elderly relatives who are claiming their legal rights to protection and security in their old age.
It is stated by Chinese sources that 35% of the total area has been harmed by acid rain and 40% of rivers have been polluted. Over 25% of Chinese residents drink contaminated water and 400 of the 667 Chinese cities suffer from water shortage. 35% of people living in the towns and cities breathe polluted air. Only 32% of all hazardous solid waste is currently treated. As a result, public health and long-term sustainable development have been seriously affected. Economic experts estimate that environmental pollution costs the Chinese economy around US$28 billion annually. The Eleventh Five-Year Plan pledges to spend US$175 billion on environmental protection until 2010. (See Chapter 3 for further information on environmental issues.)