Fri, Mar 17, 2006 - Page 9 News List

There are many hurdles ahead for the new socialist countryside

DPA , BEIJING

China's Communist Party on Tuesday formally launched its campaign to build a "socialist new countryside" as the pillar of a five-year plan, while Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) said China must be "prepared for all kinds of difficulties and risks" in implementing the goal.

The toughest tasks identified by Wen and President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) were spreading the benefits of China's rapid economic growth to poor rural areas and curbing massive energy inefficiency and environmental degradation.

China maintained an annual growth rate of more than 9 percent from 2000 to last year, but it failed to eliminate chronic problems such as overinvestment, widening income gaps, corruption and environmental damage.

The problems prompted Hu to tell top party members recently that "building a socialist new countryside is a major historic mission set by our party." China will have plenty of hurdles to clear in achieving that vision.

For instance, although China's GDP accounted for 4 percent of the global total in 2004, it used 12 percent of the primary energy consumed worldwide, 15 percent of fresh water, 28 percent of rolled steel and 50 percent of cement, the government estimated.

"We are now faced with a very serious problem of environmental pollution," Wen told reporters on Tuesday at the end of the annual National People's Congress (NPC), China's nominal parliament.

He said the government failed to meet environmental targets for 2000 to last year, including a planned decrease of 10 percent in the discharge of major pollutants.

China's energy consumption for each 10,000 yuan (US$1,250) of output was also 27 percent over its target at the equivalent of 1.4 tonnes of coal.

"We need to take practical and forceful measures," Wen said, adding that enforcement of environmental laws was "crucial" but was "also the most difficult part of the job."

Some NPC delegates were more optimistic about the possibility of achieving more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly development.

"Society has realized that energy is limited," said Peng Zhenkun, a delegate from Hubei.

"After this consensus is reached, people will voluntarily save energy," Peng said.

The government plans to use pricing and taxation measures and promote advanced technology as it aims to conserve natural resources and reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP by about 4 percent in each of the next five years, Wen said.

Jiang Minglin, an NPC delegate from Shandong Province, said he hopes government subsidies will support technology for improving energy efficiency and curbing industrial pollution.

Without such subsidies, it might be impossible to develop modern industrial enterprises in poor rural areas.

Jiang also backed plans to develop service industries, which use use far less energy and fewer resources than primary and manufacturing industries.

Over the next decade or so, up to 600 million rural residents are expected to move into large, relatively developed cities or new towns that will be built in the rural areas.

An equally demanding task will be to find sources of income for these surplus rural laborers, given that up to 400 million workers and farmers in the country of 1.3 billion people currently lack long-term, stable incomes.

"We need to implement a policy of getting industry to support agriculture and cities to support the countryside," Wen said.

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