May 17, 2012 ( – In the last ten years, Hong Kong has become a refuge of sorts for couples seeking to have a second child under China’s strictly, and often brutally enforced One Child Policy. But this avenue of escape may be coming to an end with the powers in Beijing starting to crack down on this exceptionally prosperous territory ceded back to China by the British in 1997.

The city state, together with Macau, is governed as a special administrative region (SAR) by the same communist rulers in Beijing that maintain the brutally enforced “family planning” policy on the mainland. Officially, Hong Kong does not have any family size limits, but residents are still strongly encouraged by public media to have only two children.

Tensions have been growing for months since it was revealed that thousands of mainland Chinese women, often pregnant with officially “unapproved” second children, have been coming to Hong Kong to escape the policy’s strictures. Public sentiment is growing against the mainland Chinese. In February this year, newspaper front pages featured a picture of a giant locust menacing the famed Hong Kong skyline, with the headline, “Do you want Hong Kong to spend 1 million dollars every 18 minutes to raise the children born to mainland parents?”

Recent statistics showed that in the last decade, births to mainland mothers have risen from 620 in 2001 to over 40,000 in 2010, nearly half of all the children born in the city’s hospitals. This year the city issued a rule capping the number of mainland Chinese births allowed in city hospitals at 34,000, a rule that is easily skirted by admission to hospital through emergency rooms.

Anger is growing over the strain on health care facilities, as Hong Kong residents complain that they are being pushed out of maternity wards, booked up months in advance, and some hospitals report women resorting to giving birth in emergency rooms. Under current rules, children born in Hong Kong are granted automatic residency, which entitles them to greater political freedom and crucially, to more sophisticated health care as children.

According to the Toronto Star, earlier this year, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, said that as of 2013 mainland mothers would no longer be allowed to give birth in Hong Kong public hospitals without a Hong Kong father. Moreover, the rules will be changed and children born in the city will no longer automatically receive resident status with its accompanying freedom from the official family planning policy.

The authorities in China are also starting to push back, with the China Daily state newspaper reporting that officials in Guangdong province in southern China are levying fines for violations of the One Child Policy, even if the children are born in Hong Kong. Couples returning from Hong Kong are being forced to pay large fines, and some, especially those employed by state-owned companies, are threatened with the loss of jobs.

USA Today also reported that Hong Kong officials are working with Chinese authorities to break the rings of “birth agents” who smuggle pregnant women into Hong Kong from China. These agents are known to charge as much as 188,000 Renminbi (Chinese currency), or about $30,000 Cdn, to bring a pregnant woman over the border.

China is faced with a growing dilemma over the policy. To back down now would be to have it appear that the Communist Party was willing to cave to foreign pressure but the policy, in place since 1979, has already caused a massive, all but irreversible shift in demographics that will have devastating effects on the country’s manufacturing industry, the mainstay of its booming economy.

The UN estimates that by 2025, the number of Chinese in the 15 to 24 year age range, the group that makes up the bulk of factory employees, will have dropped by 27 percent to 164 million. The aging population, whose elderly will have few adult children to care for them, are already creating a massive strain on the public pension, health and benefits systems.

Economic experts are predicting that the coming population implosion will cut China’s output by half in 20 years, a development that will have far-reaching effects with the Chinese economy making up to 30 per cent of global economic growth.

The UN has suggested that reversing the fertility decline, from its current 1.6 children per woman, to a sustainable 2.3, would halve the economic decline by 2050, from 17.3 per cent to 8.8.

Bloomberg Businessweek magazine quoted Helen Qiao, chief Greater China economist with Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong, who said that relaxing the policy is crucial to China’s economic survival. “If they start to lift the one-child restriction on urban dwellers now, the economy can get a boost from people still willing to have more than one kid,” Qiao said.