Population quality key to Northeast China’s revitalization

BY HUANG HONG | 11-02-2023
Chinese Social Sciences Today

Kindergarten students eagerly await their turn to attend a soccer game in Jinzhou, Liaoning Province. Photo: Weng Rong/CSST

In his important speech at the symposium on further promoting the revitalization of Northeast China in the new era, General Secretary Xi Jinping emphasized the need to improve the overall population quality as a means to sustain the comprehensive revitalization of the region. He stressed the importance of high-quality development of the population in achieving this goal. To alleviate the burden on households in terms of giving birth, raising, and educating children, and keep the birth rate and population within appropriate ranges, greater efforts must be made to develop childcare services that can benefit all. This strategic measure holds far-reaching implications for the long-term development of the Northeast region and its comprehensive revitalization.

High-quality population development 

Developing a high-quality population is an essential prerequisite for promoting high-quality development. It serves as a strategic resource and plays a value-supporting role in the comprehensive revitalization of Northeast China. Population issues are of paramount importance and encompass fundamental, comprehensive, and strategic concerns that are closely intertwined with politics, economics, society, culture, resources, and the environment. The Northeast region, due to its geographical location and resource advantages, directly influences national defense, food security, ecological security, energy security, and industrial security. The revitalization of the Northeast begins with the revitalization of its population. Adequate and high-quality human resources have the ability to unlock population potential, structural advantages, and human capital that are beneficial for economic and social development. 

This, in turn, establishes a strong foundation, sustained momentum, and limitless potential for the comprehensive revitalization of the Northeast. A high-quality population actively contributes to key areas such as technological innovation, environmental protection, and social governance, thereby fostering high-quality development in the Northeast region.

High-quality population development provides essential resource support for the comprehensive revitalization of Northeast China. 

From a production process perspective, revitalization of this region relies on abundant resource support. Within the resource framework, the population is the most dynamic, creative, and proactive resource, making it a crucial variable in development and a core competitive advantage. A high-quality population can provide the necessary talent and labor support for the economic development of the Northeast region. 

On the one hand, high-quality talent resources can offer strong support for technological innovation and industrial upgrading, helping to increase the region’s industrial added value and international competitiveness. On the other hand, an ample labor force can also provide essential support for the development of agriculture, industry, and services in the Northeast, facilitating the transformation and upgrading of the region’s economic structure.

High-quality population development provides value support for the comprehensive revitalization of Northeast China. During the “14th Five-Year Plan” period, promoting high-quality development has become the theme of the Northeast’s revitalization, with a focus on improving the quality and comprehensive development of the population, emphasizing that human value is important. How revitalization in all fields is achieved and how a high-quality population can be developed will serve as the flag and endogenous driving force for regional economic and social development for a considerable period to come. The goal of high-quality population development is to place the people at the center, meet their growing aspirations for a better life, and serve as an exemplar of the new development philosophy.

Intrinsic requirements

Harnessing the supportive role of high-quality population development is an inherent requirement for optimizing population development strategies in the new era. It is a key driver for advancing the population dynamics in the comprehensive revitalization of Northeast China, especially in terms of population size, structure, and quality.

A moderate population size forms the foundation for the comprehensive revitalization of Northeast China. The population size of a region must be in harmony with factors such as resources and the environment to achieve sustainable development. The Northeast region faces the challenge of an aging population, a low birth rate, and a declining number of children, making the issue of population size particularly prominent. Maintaining an appropriate population size is essential to ensure an adequate workforce. Focusing on improving population quality ensures that human resources are aligned with economic development. An ample workforce can drive industrial upgrading, stimulate innovation, activate consumer markets, and cultivate endogenous growth dynamics, contributing to the comprehensive revitalization of the region.

Dismantling barriers

General Secretary Xi Jinping emphasized at the first session of the 20th Central Commission for Financial and Economic Affairs that “population development is of vital importance to the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and “we should focus on the strategic arrangement of building a strong country and achieving national rejuvenation, perfect the strategy for population development in the new era.” This important statement provides crucial guidance and fundamental principles for improving the population development strategy in the new era and supporting the comprehensive revitalization of Northeast China through high-quality population development.

To begin with, we need to increase quantity. Specifically, focus should be placed on optimizing and improving the fertility support policy system and proactively addressing the issue of a declining birthrate. A moderate population size is a fundamental requirement for high-quality population development in Northeast China. First, it is necessary to continue refining and optimizing fertility support policies to maximize their potential. In addition, it is imperative to implement complementary measures to fertility policies and harness the synergistic effects of various policies. These measures aim to alleviate the burdens on families associated with childbirth, child-rearing, and education, enabling individuals to have the desire, courage, and means to support their children. This will help achieve a moderate fertility rate and maintain an appropriate population size. Second, the development of a comprehensive childcare service system is crucial. It is essential to establish a policy framework that supports the care and development of infants and young children. This entails the strict implementation of kindergarten policies in urban areas, active promotion of diverse forms of infant and toddler care service institutions, and encouragement of the integration of childcare and kindergarten services. 

Next, it is essential to enhance elderly care by establishing and improving a universal and diverse elderly care service system. Proactively addressing the challenges posed by an aging population is of utmost importance. The issue of “aging before prosperity” is a significant concern in the demographic structure of the Northeast region, necessitating deep reforms in related areas. 

First, it is crucial to promote the construction of a basic elderly care service system. This entails enhancing the availability of universal elderly care services, strengthening the development of community-based elderly care services, coordinating resources for universal elderly care services within communities, and exploring the establishment of community-based elderly care communities. The objective is to effectively integrate long-term care responsibilities, risk protection responsibilities, and pension arrangements with appropriate elderly care services, including elderly care communities. 

Second, expediting the development of the “silver economy” is essential. This involves focusing on the needs of senior citizens and fostering research and production of products that are closely aligned with their daily lives. Accelerating research and development efforts for products tailored to the diverse care needs of the elderly is essential.

Third, we need to accelerate the development of a modern industrial system supported by the real economy and focus on retaining and attracting talent. This can be achieved by accelerating the pace of industrial restructuring, with the “employment priority” policy as a crucial guideline. Increasing the employment elasticity coefficient is an important factor in structural adjustment. By leveraging the employment “siphoning” effect, we can retain and attract talent through job opportunities. For one thing, it is key to  develop emerging industries, with the digital economy leading the way. Cultivating new drivers of growth will attract more young individuals to employment and entrepreneurship through new industries, formats, and models. For another, upgrading and transformation traditional industries is paramount. Utilizing technological innovation to drive industrial innovation will generate new productive forces and enhance new development dynamics. This approach will enable us to better harness the strengths and potential of traditional industries, expand their scope, and serve as an employment “reservoir.”

Fourth, in regards to planning and layout, we need to adjust the urbanization development strategy and optimize the population distribution in border regions. The Northeast’s economy has entered a new stage of development, but the increasingly unbalanced spatial structure of population factors is becoming a hindrance to its comprehensive revitalization. To address this, we should adapt to changes in population structure and adjust the urbanization development strategy. This involves prioritizing a “people-oriented” approach and using administrative reforms such as “industry-city integration,” “both county and district,” and “unified townships and districts” as starting points to implement the new urbanization strategy more comprehensively. We should also advance the “development in border areas, prosperity for the people” strategy and optimize the population distribution in border regions. This requires increasing the development of fundamental public infrastructure such as transportation, improving public service systems in border cities for education, healthcare, and culture, creating platforms, and establishing higher education institutions to attract people to border areas.

Fifth, to enhance quality, we need to deepen reforms and innovations in education and healthcare, with a focus on improving the overall quality of the population. Chinese-style modernization places higher demands on population quality. In the context of the new normal of population development, the Northeast region must address the challenges posed by a shrinking and aging population by leveraging the advantage of improving population quality. To start with, it is imperative to prioritize education development as a strategic approach. This can be initiated by focusing on universal childcare and preschool education, expanding the coverage of compulsory education, promoting equitable allocation of educational resources, strengthening the provision of high-quality educational resources, and alleviating the burden of family education. Meanwhile, deepening the reform of the healthcare system is crucial. This involves clarifying the path of healthcare reform and development, enhancing the public welfare nature of public healthcare institutions, and achieving high-quality development of the healthcare industry through reform and innovation. 

Huang Hong is vice president and a professor of Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.

Edited by WENG RONG