The world’s big­gest up­root­ing

China’s new ur­ban­iza­tion plan calls for 60 per­cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion to be moved by 2020, and for­mi­da­ble chal­lenges lie ahead as the world’s most-pop­u­lous coun­try un­der­takes the big­gest hu­man mi­gra­tion in his­tory, AMY HE re­ports from New York.

China Daily (Canada) - - IN DEPTH -

If the pop­u­la­tion fig­ures of Por­tu­gal and Swe­den were added to­gether, Shang­hai’s pop­u­la­tion would still be big­ger. Shang­hai, the largest city in the world by pop­u­la­tion, and two other Chi­nese cities — Bei­jing and Guangzhou — are among the top 10 most-pop­u­lous cities in the world.

And un­der China’s first of­fi­cial ur­ban­iza­tion plan un­veiled in March, China’s ma­jor cities will most likely get big­ger, as the world’s most pop­u­lous coun­try at­tempts the largest mi­gra­tion in hu­man his­tory, the size, scope, and speed of which has never been un­taken by any other coun­try.

The Na­tional New-Type Ur­ban­iza­tion Plan (2014-2020) wants its ur­ban res­i­dents to make up 60 per­cent of the coun­try’s to­tal pop­u­la­tion by 2020, com­pared to the cur­rent 53.7 per­cent.

The new pro­posal also said that res­i­dents with of­fi­cial city hukou — China’s house­hold reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem — should be around 45 per­cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion by the end of the decade, up from the 35.7 per­cent in 2013. The plan calls for 100 mil­lion mi­grant work­ers and other per­ma­nent ur­ban res­i­dents ob­tain­ing ur­ban hukou with the help of the govern­ment.

Chi­nese of­fi­cials said that the new ur­ban­iza­tion drive will be “people-cen­tered”, fo­cus­ing on giv­ing ru­ral res­i­dents who live in cities the same ben­e­fits that city res­i­dents en­joy.

“Ur­ban­iza­tion is the sure route to mod­ern­iza­tion and an im­por­tant ba­sis for in­te­grat­ing the ur­ban and ru­ral struc­tures,” Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang said at the Na­tional People’s Congress leading up to the re­lease of the ur­ban­iza­tion plan in March.

The plan is­sued by the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the Com­mu­nist Party of China and the State Coun­cil said that it will fo­cus on “qual­ity” ur­ban­iza­tion, as op­posed to the ur­ban­iza­tion pro­gram since 1978 that has re­sulted in “mis­takes” such as wa­ter and soil pol­lu­tion and city con­ges­tion.

poli­cies Un­der the new plan, Chi­nese of­fi­cials aim to re­lax hukou poli­cies in small - and medium-sized cities to en­cour­age fur­ther ur­ban­iza­tion, though they have said that larger cities — Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Guangzhou — with more 5 mil­lion in pop­u­la­tion will main­tain strict hukou mea­sures.

When asked if the plan in­di­cates that mi­grant work­ers who move to ma­jor cities for work will have no chance of get­ting a city hukou, Huang Ming, vice-min­is­ter of pub­lic se­cu­rity, said at a press con­fer­ence in Bei­jing that “the chances of be­com­ing res­i­dents of me­gac­i­ties will not be as big as those in other big cities, and medium and small cities in par­tic­u­lar.”

Huang said that ur­ban­iza­tion across Chi­nese cities has been “un­bal­anced” and that big cities with more re­sources have nat­u­rally at­tracted big­ger pop­u­la­tions of mi­grant work­ers. This has put a strain on these cities that are suf­fer­ing from en­vi­ron­ment de­te­ri­o­ra­tion and there­fore the hukou sys­tem will be “un­der strict con­trol”, he said.

But large cities have his­tor­i­cally been a ma­jor draw for mi­grant work­ers look­ing for more job op­por­tu­ni­ties as well as bet­ter so­cial- wel­fare ben­e­fits, and some ur­ban­iza­tion spe­cial­ists say that main­tain­ing strict mea­sures over big-city pop­u­la­tions is mis­guided, and that the govern­ment should ac­tu­ally be look­ing to make tier-1 cities big­ger and denser.

“I’m a lit­tle con­cerned that the con­trol of city size in the larger cities will ac­tu­ally make it harder for China to re­al­ize the pro­duc­tiv­ity gains that it needs to grow a sus­tain­able 7 or 7.5 per­cent for the rest of the decade,” said Yukon Huang, se­nior as­so­ciate at the Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace. “It’s a mis­con­cep­tion that Chi­nese cities are dense; they’re ac­tu­ally not that dense,” he said. “They’re sprawled out and very ex­pan­sive.”

Ur­ban land in Bei­jing, for ex­am­ple, has in­creased about seven­fold over the last two decades, while pop­u­la­tion has only dou­bled, so if big Chi­nese cities were ac­tu­ally denser, cities would be more ef­fi­cient, less pol­luted and have fewer traf­fic prob­lems, he said.

“To put a limit on the growth of large cities I don’t think is a very wise thing. You don’t have such lim­its in any other coun­try. So that’s a ques­tion, why do you need one in China?” Huang said.

With so many people spread­ing out over a large area, lo­cal gov­ern­ments need to spend more on build­ing in­fra­struc­ture and trans­port links to con­nect res­i­dents, and dis­tance is a chal­lenge when it comes to re­lay­ing so­cial ser­vices to outer-ly­ing res­i­dents.

In a joint re­port re­leased af­ter the of­fi­cial ur­ban­iza­tion plan was un­veiled, the World Bank and the De­vel­op­ment Re­search Cen­ter of China’s State Coun­cil (DRC), a state agency, said that in a re­form sce­nario, denser cities will re­quire less in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment be­cause land will be used more ef­fi­ciently.

“Land re­forms would im­prove the ef­fi­ciency of ru­ral and ur­ban land use and in­crease the com­pen­sa­tion ru­ral res­i­dents re­ceive from land con­ver­sion, thus im­prov­ing the dis­tri­bu­tion of in­come and wealth,” ac­cord­ing to the World Bank re­port. “Land re­forms will also likely lead to denser cities, which would re­duce the en­ergy in­ten­sity and car use in cities, thus im­prov­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity. And re­duced land use for ur­ban­iza­tion would leave more land for en­vi­ron­men­tal ser­vices and agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion.” City den­sity

As Chi­nese lead­ers fo­cus on re­bal­anc­ing China’s econ­omy, city den­sity may also play a role in mov­ing the coun­try to a con­sump­tion-based econ­omy from an ex­port-driven one.

“Do­mes­tic de­mand is the fun­da­men­tal drive of our na­tion’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, and ur­ban­iza­tion has the great­est po­ten­tial to ex­pand do­mes­tic con­sump­tion,” the plan said.

Ac­cord­ing to World Bank es­ti­mates, house­hold in­comes are higher in cities that are more densely pop­u­lated and higher-den­sity cities also cor­re­late with higher re­tail sales per capita.

“Cities of­fer con­sump­tion ameni­ties as­so­ci­ated with higher den­si­ties, which are as­so­ci­ated with higher house­hold in­comes,” the World Bank re­ported. “Those higher in­comes com­bined with so­cial in­ter­ac­tions as­so­ci­ated with higher den­si­ties boost the de­mand for con­sump­tion ameni­ties.”

Mea­sures to main­tain strict pop­u­la­tion con­trol in large cities pre­vent mar­ket forces from act­ing to their fullest, run­ning counter to a ma­jor point as pledged in the Third Plenum an­nounced last Novem­ber, ur­ban­iza­tion ex­perts said.

“The Third Plenum said to let the mar­ket be­come de­ci­sive in al­lo­cat­ing re­sources, and a ma­jor re­source in China is its people. If you let the mar­ket al­lo­cate people, es­sen­tially you al­low the people to go where the jobs are, or where they think the good jobs are, rather than the govern­ment ar­ti­fi­cially restrict­ing it,” Huang said.

“There’s ac­tu­ally a so-called price of la­bor, which is wages. When you ac­tu­ally re­strict or put rules on where people can live and work, you’re ac­tu­ally in­ter­fer­ing with the cost and price of work­ers,” he said.

And though big cities are at­trac­tive for job op­por­tu­ni­ties, they won’t keep


aniza­tion is the sure route to mod­ern­iza­tion and an im­por­tant ba­sis for in­te­grat­ing the ur­ban and ru­ral struc­tures.” LI KE­QIANG CHI­NESE PRE­MIER

ex­pand­ing in­fin­itely ei­ther, said Pan Qisheng, chair of the depart­ment of Ur­ban Plan­ning and En­vi­ron­men­tal Pol­icy at Texas South­ern Univer­sity and chair of the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for China Plan­ning.

Just like mar­ket forces may be driv­ing mi­grants to ma­jor cities, it is those same forces that will pre­vent ma­jor cities from grow­ing for­ever, Pan said. “When a city be­comes very dense — es­pe­cially in the down­town cen­tral city area — costs get re­ally high, leading the people to move out from the cen­tral city” into the pe­riph­eral ar­eas, he said.

So it’s not nec­es­sary for the govern­ment to con­trol city pop­u­la­tions, said Pan, nor can they.

“His­tor­i­cal data shows that there’s no way for you to con­trol the pop­u­la­tion in the big cities. There’s no way, for sure,” he said. “It doesn’t mat­ter if we’re talk­ing about the US or in China, es­pe­cially be­cause China said it will be­come more and more mar­ket-ori­ented.”

The ma­jor­ity of China’s pop­u­la­tion lives on the east­ern side of the coun­try, which con­sists of 10 prov­inces and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, in­clud­ing Bei­jing, Tian­jin, Shang­hai, Jiangsu, Fu­jian, and Guang­dong, and has seen con­tin­u­ous ur­ban­iza­tion rates since the be­gin­ning of the 21st century.

In 2000, the re­gion was ur­ban­iz­ing at a rate of 45.3 per­cent, which in­creased to 55 per­cent in 2007 and, ac­cord­ing to lat­est fig­ures from the China Sta­tis­ti­cal Year­book, in­creased to 60.8 per­cent in 2011. Within two decades from 1984 to 2011, about 50 per­cent of the 481 mil­lion new ur­ban res­i­dents ended up in east­ern cities, ac­cord­ing to a 2013 ur­ban­iza­tion re­port re­leased by the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram.

“Large cities were bas­tions of China’s ur­ban sys­tem early in the re­form pe­riod, de­spite re­stric­tive poli­cies at some points, es­pe­cially to con­trol large cities from the 1980s to the mid-1990s,” the re­port said. Cat­e­go­riz­ing res­i­dents

One of the other ma­jor ob­sta­cles in China’s ur­ban­iza­tion process is how hukou poli­cies will af­fect new city res­i­dents.

To­day’s hukou sys­tem has been in place since the 1950s and res­i­dents are cat­e­go­rized as ei­ther ru­ral or ur­ban, liv­ing and work­ing in the places of their hukou reg­is­tra­tion. Once ur­ban­iza­tion was un­der­way, ru­ral work­ers could travel to dif­fer­ent cities for jobs, but were not given the same ac­cess to so­cial ben­e­fits en­joyed by city dwellers who had city hukou.

Though it has been pos­si­ble for work­ers to ob­tain city hukou and hukou poli­cies have been re­laxed in the 1980s and on­wards, is­sues with hukou still con­trib­ute to dis­par­i­ties in in­come and ser­vices pro­vided to ru­ral work­ers and their fam­i­lies liv­ing in new cities.

“Mak­ing so­cial en­ti­tle­ments avail­able to all work­ers and their fam­i­lies in their ar­eas of res­i­dence would deepen the hu­man cap­i­tal base and pro­mote a health­ier work­force,” said the World Bank-DRC re­port. “It would im­prove in­ter­gen­er­a­tional in­come mo­bil­ity, re­duce fu­ture in­equal­i­ties, and al­le­vi­ate so­cial ten­sions.”

It sug­gested that a res­i­dence-based sys­tem would be more ef­fec­tive than the cur­rent sys­tem so that money and ben­e­fits as­so­ci­ated with a worker goes wher­ever the worker goes. Now re­sources are al­lo­cated based on hukou sta­tus, not on a where a per­son is phys­i­cally.

“You have a very strange sit­u­a­tion. In many ru­ral ar­eas, in many prov­inces, the lo­cal govern­ment re­ceives money from the cen­tral govern­ment for school­ing and health for people who don’t even ex­ist there,” said Huang, who was the World Bank’s coun­try di­rec­tor for China, and cur­rently ad­vises the World Bank.

“The people are some­where else. So if this money was ac­tu­ally re­al­lo­cated and it went along with where people are, ac­tu­ally, you would have a much eas­ier or more ef­fi­cient way of pro­vid­ing so­cial ser­vices,” he said. So­cial ser­vices for ur­ban res­i­dents in­clude free school­ing, ac­cess to ba­sic pub­lic health care, med­i­cal and re­tire­ment pen­sions and wel­fare hous­ing.

The World Bank- DRC re­port said that China has been very suc­cess­ful at “ur­ban­iz­ing em­ploy­ment”, but has failed in “ur­ban­iz­ing people”, which has ul­ti­mately led to in­come dis­par­i­ties and slow growth of an ur­ban mid­dle class.

The hukou sys­tem has his­tor­i­cally ben­e­fited ur­ban res­i­dents, and the ris­ing dis­par­ity in ser­vice qual­ity has left the mi­grant pop­u­la­tion in cities at a dis­ad­van­tage. Chil­dren in mi­grant fam­i­lies re­ceive poorer ed­u­ca­tion, mi­grant res­i­dents work longer hours for less pay, and it’s harder for mi­grants to pur­chase homes in cities where they don’t have hukou. Only 10 per­cent of mi­grants own ur­ban hous­ing, com­pared to the 90 per­cent of per­ma­nent ur­ban res­i­dents, the World Bank-DRC said.

“Hukou’s a com­pli­cated is­sue. It’s like if you want to board a bus: people who are al­ready sit­ting on the bus say, ‘No, no more people!’ But people out­side say, ‘Well you still have space on the bus, so we would like to board,’” said Zhang Ting­wei, di­rec­tor of Asia and China Re­search Pro­gram at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Chicago’s col­lege of ur­ban plan­ning.

“It’s a com­pli­cated one and not easy to solve,” he said, and it’s one of the big­gest prob­lems with the new ur­ban­iza­tion plan.

The costs of ur­ban­iza­tion in China will be huge. Deputy Fi­nance Min­is­ter Wang Baoan said that 42 tril­lion yuan ($6.75 tril­lion) will be needed to fi­nance ur­ban­iza­tion over the next seven years, but many say that the fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits of prop­erly de­vel­oped ur­ban cities are enor­mous.

“It’s an in­vest­ment worth mak­ing, but what we do need is a lit­tle less waste,” said Ed­ward Glaeser, pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics at Har­vard Univer­sity. “We need a lit­tle bet­ter man­age­ment and a lit­tle less build­ing for build­ing’s own sake. Ap­ply that cost-ben­e­fit anal­y­sis as­sid­u­ously to ev­ery new project, make sure that ev­ery­thing is de­liv­er­ing ser­vices that are re­ally help­ing hu­man­ity in the cities,” he said. Ghost towns

Mod­ern-day ghost towns across China have been widely re­ported on in the last few years, cities where gleam­ing new apart­ment build­ings and large shop­ping malls have seen few ten­ants and cus­tomers and re­main largely un­oc­cu­pied.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal costs to China’s fast de­vel­op­ment have also been enor­mous, re­sult­ing in what the govern­ment has called “ur­ban dis­ease”, which in­cludes en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion, sewage and garbage prob­lems, and traf­fic con­ges­tion.

Air pol­lu­tion in Bei­jing and Shang­hai hit record highs this year, with thick smog cov­er­ing the cities and the prospect of mov­ing even more mi­grants into cities un­der the new ur­ban­iza­tion plan may seem daunt­ing, ex­perts said.

“I don’t think any­body has ever ur­ban­ized at such a big pop­u­la­tion at such a fast speed,” caus­ing strain on nat­u­ral re­sources and adding doubt to whether the en­vi­ron­ment can han­dle the new in­flux of ur­ban­iza­tion, said Tun­ney Lee, for­mer head of the depart­ment of ur­ban stud­ies and plan­ning at the Mas­sachus­sets In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

Com­pared to the US, which has en­force­able en­vi­ron­men­tal laws, “China has strong laws but ones that are dif­fi­cult to en­force, mostly be­cause the lo­cal of­fi­cials and lo­cal fac­to­ries find it much eas­ier to vi­o­late the laws,” he said. “That’s a big prob­lem.”

Lo­cal gov­ern­ments need to be dif­fer­ently in­cen­tivized, and ul­ti­mately, “I can’t see how China can af­ford not to ur­ban­ize,” said Glaeser. “I think un­ques­tion­ably ur­ban­iza­tion in­volves an enor­mous ex­pense but the fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits of do­ing it are enor­mous.”

Ab­has Jha, sec­tor man­ager for trans­port, ur­ban and dis­as­ter risk man­age­ment for East Asia and the Pa­cific for the World Bank, agrees.

“The world can­not af­ford China get­ting ur­ban­iza­tion wrong, be­cause the fu­ture of the planet de­pends on it get­ting it right,” he said.

Con­tact the writer at amyhe@chi­nadai­


Newly built apart­ment build­ings in He­fei city, An­hui prov­ince. The lo­cal govern­ment pro­vided 10,734 apart­ments for more than 20,000 vil­lagers who used to live in an old-city area with poor fa­cil­i­ties.

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