On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Size matters, but so does quality

Quoting the latest official statistics, a Chinese daily
reported that 5.59 million Chinese  made
up only 24.6% of the national population of 22.7 million.

If the report is correct, it is certainly a 
point of concern because at one stage, the  Chinese comprised 30% of the

The statistics also showed that of the 
550,000 babies born in the first half of 1999,  only 110,000 were Chinese while Malays
accounted for more than 365,000.

In fact, the projection is that in the coming 
years, the number of Indians would be more  than the Chinese.

At a seminar in 1988, it was already predicted that the Chinese population
could decline as low as 13% by the year 2100.

The trend is probably more pressing if one 
takes into account the increasing number of  Indonesian women giving birth in

There are many reasons why the Chinese 
are not having big families. It's not just peculiar to Malaysia but also
in Singapore.

In the case of Singapore, Prime Minister 
Goh Chok Tong has even dangled two carrots to nudge them towards having
more  children  money and paid maternity leave,  even for the third child.

The reasons are probably similar. Over 
here, it is not wrong to say that many Chinese couples are marrying
later in life   and in many cases,
preferring to remain single.

For young graduates and professionals, 
plans to climb the corporate ladder have become their priority.

The lack of child-care support, unwillingness to spare time for a bigger
family, a  child-free lifestyle, worry of
a family impeding their mobility and the reluctance in  bringing up another child in a stressful
urban life are contributing factors.

Young couples in the city, burdened by the 
increasing high cost of living, place much  importance in maintaining a quality life
at  the expense of family size. For older
couples, many put off the idea of another child 
after years of hard work.

That aside, Malaysian Chinese understand 
the importance of doing well in life. They  know that education is costly and they
need  to save up for their children's

If their children cannot secure a place in 
the public universities, their only option is  private education.

Over the years, the burden is somewhat 
lesser with the Government's liberal approach to private colleges but
going private  is still expensive for
most people.

The Federation of Chinese Associations or 
Huazong has responded positively to the call  by MCA vice-president Datuk Ong Ka Ting  who urged the community to take a
serious  view of the drop in the
country's Chinese  population.

Huazong, which represents the 13 state 
Chinese Assembly Halls, is also the highest  authority among the country's several
thousand Chinese guilds and associations.

Ong had stressed the importance of the 
community's role in answering manpower 
needs as the nation forged ahead to become  a developed state.

There is also the political cost. It must not 
be forgotten that Chinese voters, who are always pragmatic, have played
a crucial, even  decisive, factor in

Shunning religious extremism, the community has consistently backed the
Alliance  and then Barisan

The declining Chinese population should 
not just be the concern of the MCA and Chinese associations but also the
ruling coalition.

Huazong president Tan Sri Chong Chin 
Seong said the group was planning to set up  a fund to give incentives to young couples
to  have more babies.

The same sentiment was expressed by Datuk Ng Teck Fong, deputy president of
the  Malaysian Federation of Hakka

This is not the first time such monetary 
consideration has been made. A few years 
back, a Chinese trade group offered the 
same deal to its members but it was 
scrapped when there were no takers.

The realisation to regenerate and rejuvenate the community is commendable but
it is  hardly practical.

No doubt, it is a nice gesture but the concern among young couples is not money
to  start a family but the cost of
raising a family.

It's like paying a deposit to book a house. 
The real problem is the progressive payments and repaying the

But all is not lost. While the numbers 
game is important in Malaysian politics, it is  equally important to focus on building a  community which is educated, skilful,
competitive and self-reliant.

Attention should also be made to ensure 
that the entrepreneurial spirit is instilled  among young Chinese.

It is also important for the community to 
forge a consensus on political issues and to  adopt a common direction, taking into account
our multi-racial, multi-religious and 
multi-cultural society.

There must be a willingness to sacrifice 
narrow self-political interest for wider community interests.

Such fundamental re-thinking is essential 
given the challenges ahead. Size is important but so is quality.