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China hoping 'two sessions' balance urbanization

Updated: 2013-03-02 21:14

BEIJING - Ding Guangying works and lives with his family in Shanghai, but they can hardly call the place home.

Ding has been considering transferring his daughter back to their hometown in Shandong province for high school, since Shanghai currently doesn't allow migrant children, who do not have a permanent local household registration (hukou), to take college entrance exams there as locals.

Therefore, the forklift driver has to forecast whether the policy is going to be changed and make a quick decision, as his daughter is about to graduate from junior high school this summer.

Actually, school access is just one of many problems making it difficult for migrants to survive the urban environment, a situation that will hopefully be addressed in the upcoming national political sessions.

An urban hukou brings at least 60 kinds of social welfare unavailable to rural residents or migrant workers, according to renowned economist Gu Shengzu, who is also a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature.

Gu told a forum on Monday that the country's fast urbanization was focused on material development or physical constructions, rather than people.

That has resulted in a new category of people besides the urban and rural population -- migrant workers, or semi-urbanized farmers, said Gu.

Official statistics show that over half of China's population of 1.3 billion live in urban areas, while the latest count of migrant workers is 260 million.

Along with China's rapid economic growth, various social issues and conflicts have also surfaced.

A popular observation provides that on the one hand, the children of migrant workers are seeking the same access to higher education and other public services as their urban competitors; while on the other hand major Chinese cities are becoming overpopulated in terms of resources and space.

A "healthy" urbanization has to be evaluated on various indicators, including education, security, healthcare, employment, transportation, telecommunications and environmental protection, according to urbanization expert Zhou Hanmin.

Zhou, also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top political advisory body, said that China's new leadership must shift the focus of urbanization from economic development to people's livelihoods.

Zhou's suggestion echoes Chinese vice-premier Li Keqiang's understanding on the issue.

Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in November, Li has repeatedly stressed imbalances in the country's development between urban and rural areas and the gap between different groups within cities.

"A new model should focus on the urbanization of people in the first place," according to Li.

Zhou said he also hopes for a new model, which has to be forward-looking and innovative to balance diversified interests.

The readjustment of interests in urbanization can be only be achieved by systematic reforms in hukou, land use, public services, taxation and social security, added Gu.

In addition, Zhou particularly noted that the base and the driving force of urbanization are development of rural areas and modern agriculture.

A reformed new model may also push forward the country's economic transformation and sustainable development, said Zhou.

Both Gu and Zhou predicted that a new urbanization model will be a hot issue to be discussed at the upcoming NPC and CPPCC annual sessions, which are scheduled to kick off on March 5 and March 3, respectively.