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China to Remain Aging Society in 21st Century

China, a country with 145 million elderly people, will remain an aging society during this century, according to Chinese population experts.

China officially became an aging society in 1999, and currently about 11 percent of the population are over the age of 60, accounting for half of the total elderly population in Asia, said Li Bengong, executive deputy director of the China National Committee on Aging.

"China will be an irreversible aging society in 21st century," he said.

It is predicted that the Chinese elderly population will reach 170 million in 2010, 12.5 percent of the total population, and 243 million in 2020, 17 percent of the total, according to Cheng Yong, director of the Liaison Office of the China National Committee on Aging.

Cheng said the people who were born during the baby boom period in the 1950s to 1960s will become senior citizens in the next 15 years, thus speeding up China's aging process.

China's elderly population is expected to hit 437 million in 2051, according to a study carried out by the China National Committee on Aging and the Population Studies Institute of the Tianjin-based Nankai University.

Cheng forecasts increased purchasing power and consumption by elderly people in the coming years.

Currently, the market demand by the elderly population in China is estimated at 400 billion to 600 billion yuan (US$50-75 billion) a year, and by 2010, it may reach 1 trillion yuan (US$125 billion), Cheng said.

However, China can now only offer 50 billion yuan (US$6.25 billion) of services to the elderly population a year, leaving a huge gap between market demand and supply, he said.

Therefore, public services, such as medical care, travel and shopping, can not match the demand, said Zhang Wenfan, president of the Chinese Society of Gerontology.

Zhang suggested the government and private organizations should offer more commodities and services to the elderly.

(Xinhua News Agency July 21, 2006)

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