Tue, Dec 25, 2012 - Page 15 News List

China’s new leaders pledge more help for farmers

RURAL BOOST:In an attempt to stave off social unrest over a widening income gap, the Chinese government plans to redress inequality between urban and rural areas


China has said it will better protect farmers’ land rights and boost rural incomes and public services to help narrow the divide with urban areas.

The government will increase agricultural subsidies and ensure “reasonable returns” from crops, Xinhua news agency said on Saturday, citing a work conference on setting rural policy.

The goals, which include increasing rural incomes by at least as much as those in urban areas, reflect the leadership’s focus on reforming the land system and addressing wealth disparities as it encourages migration into urban areas to boost consumption. Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang (李克強), set to take over from Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) as premier in March, is championing urbanization as a growth engine.

Li was elevated to No. 2 on the Politburo Standing Committee, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) highest ruling body, in a once-a-decade transfer of power in Beijing last month. At the meeting, the outgoing CCP secretary-general, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), said the party aimed to “give more to farmers, take less from them” adding that resolving farmers’ issues is the party’s “No. 1 priority.”

Land grievances have sparked thousands of protests across the nation, posing one of the most serious challenges to the party. Residents in the southern village of Wukan grabbed world attention last year when they forced local politicians out of office over a land grab.

About 43 percent of villages in China have experienced land appropriations since the 1990s and land disputes are the leading cause of social unrest, according to Xiaohui Wu, a land-tenure specialist at Landesa, a Seattle-based group that studies global land issues.

The CCP last month pledged to narrow the divide between rich and poor and between urban and rural areas. The nation’s wealth gap is 50 percent higher than a risk level for social unrest, according to a central bank-backed survey published this month.

Urban per capita disposable income in the first nine months of the year rose 13 percent to 18,427 yuan (US$2,940), almost three times a cash income of 6,778 yuan in rural areas, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics data.

“The greatest outstanding problem in our country’s social and economic system is still the separation of rural and urban China; and the most serious factor hindering China from building a comprehensive, well-off society, is the excessively large gap between urban and rural development,” Xinhua said, citing the work conference.

The government will try to ensure that farmers who move to towns and cities receive the same treatment as urban residents, it said.

China has set a target for next year’s expansion of 7.5 percent, Bloomberg News said on Tuesday last week, citing bank executives and a regulatory official. This year’s goal was cut to 7.5 percent from the 8 percent in place from 2005 through last year.

Growth has averaged 10.6 percent annually over the past decade.

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