China has announced a sweeping plan to manage the flow of rural residents into cities, promising to promote urbanization but also to solve some of the drastic side effects of this great uprooting.
The plan — the country's first attempt at broadly coordinating one of the greatest migrations in history — foresees 100 million more people moving to China's cities by 2020, while providing better access to schools and hospitals for 100 million former farmers already living in cities but currently denied many basic services. Underpinning these projections would be government spending to build roads, railways, hospitals, schools and housing.
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Formally announced on Sunday, the plan has been one of the most contentious projects in recent years. Originally scheduled to be announced last year, it backs away from more radical proposals, which predicted even more farmers leaving the land for cities. But the plan is still ambitious, with 30 chapters, covering topics that include Internet access, building standards, environmental protection and public safety.
"These are big numbers, but they're not the crazy numbers that came out last year," said Tom Miller, a Beijing-based analyst and author of "China's Urban Billion," a look at what China's cities may look like in 2030. "They're being more realistic than they might have."
The plan floated last year by the government's powerful planning commission called for 70 percent of the country's nearly 1.4 billion population to be living in cities by 2025. The current plan aims for 60 percent by 2020. It also emphasizes what has been a relatively new phenomenon over the past decade: the state's role in deciding who should move from rural land and where they should live.
The need for urbanization, the plan asserts, is part of a broader move to shift China's structure away from growth based on exports and investment, and toward domestic demand. Many econteromists believe that urbanites consume more than farmers, who tend to be more self-sufficient.
But the plan also sees urbanization as part of China's future. It states that "urbanization is modernization" and "urbanization is an inevitable requirement for promoting social progress," noting that every developed country is urbanilippozed and industrialized.
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The plan strongly emphasizes the improvement of quality of life for new city residents through increased government spending. It also calls for improvement in the quality of building construction, which has sometimes been criticized by new residents.
"I think it's good because it touches on problems created by urbanization in the past," said Yi Peng, the director of the Urbanization Research Center of the International Finance Forum, a Chinese think tank. "Public services have been lacking and urbanization has not been rational."
The most ambitious part of the urbanization plan is to better integrate former rural residents who are currently living in cities — many of them for years and even decades. Currently, nearly 54 percent of Chinese live in cities, but only 36 percent are registered as urban residents. That disparity — representing about 250 million people — are former farmers living in cities but not permitted to register as city dwellers. That means they cannot send their children to local schools, use hospitals or enjoy other benefits of city life.