China's population grew to 1.34 billion people last year, the National Bureau of Statistics has announced, marking a modest jump for a massive population and leading experts to suggest China may relax its generation-old one-child policy.
The figure, which is preliminary and based on a sample survey, shows China added about 6.3 million people last year, up from 1.3347 billion at the end of 2009.
A more accurate figure is expected to be released within the next few months after the government tallies the results of its 2010 census, the first in 10 years.
The number indicates a slower rate of growth than the previous year and experts said the decline in growth could help convince policy makers to relax the government's strict family planning limits. Since 1981, the government has limited families in cities to one child and rural parents to two to control its population.
"China's population now is mainly growing because people are living longer, not because people are having lots of babies," Cai Yong, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, and an expert on China's population, said.
Mr Cai said the figure reported on the National Bureau of Statistics website was not surprising but fell on the low end of the government's expectations.
It could embolden policy makers to experiment with loosening the family planning policy to allow couples in a handful of provinces to have two children if they want, he said.
China's population growth has been contracting since 1987 and the US Census Bureau has projected that China's population will peak at slightly less than 1.4 billion in 2026, with India overtaking China as the world's most populous nation in 2025.
Mr Cai said allowing more births now would help the country cope with looking after its large and growing elderly population.
"To have a stable society, you better start now, to think ahead of time because it takes 20 to 30 years to have another generation come down the line," he said.