"How China can transform itself from a country with a large population to a human resources power is now a tough but pertinent question," vice minister of the national population and family planning commission, Dr Zhao Baigesaid.
"Population issues remain a serious constraint on all-round coordinated and sustainable development of China and a critical factor impacting upon socio-economic development in the country," she told foreign correspondents here at a special briefing on China's first national population development strategy research report.
She said that China will not suffer labour shortage in the long term. However, there will be quality and skill gaps in its labour force, causing long-term structural shortages.
Statisticians predict China's population will reach 1.36 billion in 2010 and 1.45 billion in 2020, peaking at 1.5 billion around the year 2033. In 2000, the size of the working population - the number of people aged 15 to 64 - was 860 million.
It is expected to peak at 1.01 billion in 2016, far more even the total working population in all developed countries combined. One of China's outstanding problems is that current training programmes focus too much on education rather than labour skill development, the report noted.
The physical, scientific, cultural and moral qualities of Chinese people have become one of the primary factors impacting the country's competitiveness and industrialisation, the report said.
In 2000, Chinese people aged above 15 had received just 7.85 years of education on average. The proportion of the rural working-age population who has only received a primary education or even less was as high as 47.6%. Zhao said a three-step population development strategy is being planned under which the government hopes to control the total population and improving its quality. She said it is essential for China to prioritise investment on all-round human development, stabilise the low fertility level, upgrade population quality in terms of health and education, improve population structure and ensure population security and promote the transformation of China from a populous country to a nation competitive in human capital and facilitate coordinated and sustainable development.
In its report, the national population development strategy research group noted that by 2010 efforts must be taken to markedly improve population quality; guarantee that people enjoy basic medical services; popularise the nine-year compulsory education policy; lower the poverty rate; check the rising gender imbalance; alleviate the widening gap between rural and urban regions; improve living conditions.
By 2020, China should significantly improve the quality of the population; ensure better health care; reduce the size of the impoverished population; normalise the sex ratio at birth; close the widening gap between rural and urban regions; significantly improve people's living conditions.
And by 2050, China should put an end to the population growth peak and slowly reduce the population growth rate; ensure the per capita income of the Chinese people is equal to that of moderately developed countries; improve the quality and health of the Chinese population. By 2050, the country should also establish a reasonable population distribution and employment structure; realise common progress and the development of urban and rural areas; create an environmentally friendly and modern living environment and basically realise national modernisation.