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UPDATED: May 20, 2010 Web Exclusive
A Race Against Time
The rapid aging of Chinese society calls for a long-term plan


GUARANTEED: Miao Lihua and her husband read the pension statement she just received from the Qingdao Municipal Government in east China's Shandong Province on April 7, 2010. People 60 years and older with no employment record in Qingdao are eligible to receive a basic pension of at least 55 yuan ($8.06) per month starting from January 2010 (XINHUA) 

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in his government work report at this year's lianghui, or two conferences, i.e. the yearly sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), that the government will intensify strategic research on coping with an aging population.

"It is the right time to deal with the problem, otherwise, it will be too late," Yang Yansui, director of the Center for Employment & Social Security (CESS) at Tsinghua University, said in a recent interview with Caijing, a well-known magazine in China.

Researchers and decision-makers say that 2010 is a crucial year for China to cope with the challenge of its aging population. Whether China can safely ride the looming age wave depends on its long-term plan, which is under formulation by decision-makers. The policies under formulation are of great significance to support the modern social insurance system.

For China, aging itself is not a problem, but what makes the challenge more serious is the lack of preparation.

Urgent task

China must answer questions about its aging society, such as whether there is an aging crisis and when it will begin, before making elderly-care policies and adjusting the aging industry, said Yang.

Research by the CESS shows that China will begin to experience an aging crisis between 2033 and 2035, when the elderly population—65 years and older—will rise to 294 million and the working population will drop to 810 million.

"The aging issue is expected to be at the top of the agenda for China's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), and should be a priority in the whole public service sector," said Yang Tuan, deputy director of the Social Policy Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

A systematic reorganization of existing systems and plans has already begun, according to Cao Bingliang, deputy director of the China National Committee on Aging (CNCA). At the end of 2009, a strategic research program on coping with an aging population was launched.

The program, one more key study of modern Chinese society, plans to finish 20 projects by October 2010, with research reports on each of them along with a general report. Measures and policies addressing the aging problem will be put forward on the basis of the general situation of the elderly population, according to Yin Zhiyuan, deputy head of the Department of Pension Insurance at the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MHRSS). Yin is also one of the participants in the research program.

The CNCA this year will coordinate with other government departments to make plans to address the aging of society for the next five years, based on similar efforts over the past five years.

All signs indicate that the country's policymakers are aware of the importance of the elderly-care industry for improving socio-economic structure and creating public demand. However, which department should be responsible for addressing the aging issue was unclear until the end of 2008, when the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) set up the Department of Social Welfare and Social Security, said Wang Hui, head of the department serving elderly and disabled people at the MCA.

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