Population close-up
Editorial  ·  2024-05-06  ·   Source: NO.19 MAY 9, 2024

China's total population dropped for a second consecutive year in 2023, adding fuel to an ongoing demographic debate. In this context, it is important to take a closer look by observing shifting demographics across the country's provinces.

Of the 31 provincial-level administrative regions on the Chinese mainland—22 provinces, four municipalities directly under the Central Government's administration and five autonomous regions, only 10 recorded an increase in their number of permanent residents last year, according to figures released by provincial-level authorities available to date. Permanent residents are defined as those who have lived in a place for six months or longer.

Zhejiang Province in the east saw the largest increase of 500,000. It was followed by Guangdong and Hainan provinces in the south. In terms of total population, Guangdong and Shandong ranked top two, each being home to more than 100 million people.

Population growth in a region results from natural growth and inflow of people from other regions. Analysts believe it is positively correlated with local development. Both Zhejiang and Guangdong are China's economic locomotives with flourishing digital economies creating an abundance of job opportunities. They also give priority to attracting highly skilled and qualified personnel. Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang, for instance, gives cash bonuses to university graduates who choose to work in the city.

The rise in Hainan's population is partly attributable to the burgeoning free trade port there, driving trade and investment liberalization and facilitation. Official data show the number of newly established foreign-funded enterprises in the tropical island province has grown at an annual rate of 65 percent since 2018.

Another highlight is northeast China, a region that has suffered from a brain drain for many years and is making a turnaround. Jilin Province experienced a net inflow of 43,400 people last year, and Liaoning Province witnessed a net inflow of 86,000 people, both putting an end to years of net population outflow. Analysts say this is a sign that revitalization of the region, which housed China's major industrial bases in the early days of the People's Republic, is gaining momentum with the rise of industries such as new energy, new materials and advanced manufacturing.

As it comes to terms with its new demographic normal, China is committed to training a more qualified workforce to meet the needs of emerging industries. Different regions are also fine-tuning their policies. Adaptation and innovation are key in times of change.

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