Beijing (AP): China’s population grew last year, the government said Thursday, following a news report a once-a-decade census might have found a decline, possibly adding to downward pressure on economic growth.

The National Bureau of Statistics gave no population figure, which it said would be reported later. But its unusual decision to comment on the report by The Financial Times reflected the political sensitivity of the issue.

The Financial Times reported people familiar with the 2020 census said it was expected to show the population, which rose above 1.4 billion in 2019, declined for the first time since the ruling Communist Party took power in 1949.

Chinese leaders have tried to restrain population growth since 1980. The total has long been expected to peak in coming decades and decline in line with trends in other Asian countries. But an outright fall so early would increase challenges for leaders who are trying to shore up economic growth and raise incomes.

According to our understanding, in 2020, China’s population continued to grow, the NBS said on its website.

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