Fo­cus on peo­ple not build­ings

The ur­ban­iza­tion strat­egy is meant to in­te­grate the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion into ur­ban ar­eas, not fuel a con­struc­tion boom

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - | X I A O JINCHENG The au­thor is di­rec­tor of In­sti­tute of Spatial Plan­ning and Re­gional Econ­omy, af­fil­i­ated to Na­tional De­vel­op­ment and Re­form Com­mis­sion.

China for­mu­lated its ur­ban­iza­tion strat­egy at the be­gin­ning of this cen­tury and it has gained wide­spread so­cial recog­ni­tion over the years. How­ever, a mis­con­cep­tion has also arisen about the ur­ban­iza­tion strat­egy, with some be­liev­ing it is the process of ac­cel­er­at­ing ur­ban con­struc­tion and ur­ban­iz­ing ru­ral ar­eas. This mis­con­cep­tion has led to an ur­ban build­ing boom and the loss of arable land to ur­ban ex­pan­sion.

In essence, though, the ur­ban­iza­tion strat­egy should be the trans­fer of the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion to ur­ban ar­eas. Over the past three decades or so, since China launched its re­form and open­ing-up drive in the late 1970s, mil­lions of farm­ers have mi­grated from ru­ral re­gions to work in cities. They have been the driv­ing force be­hind China’s ur­ban­iza­tion and in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion.

From a sta­tis­ti­cal per­spec­tive, mi­grant work­ers are cat­e­go­rized as per­ma­nent res­i­dents in the cities where they work, but in re­al­ity they are not, due to lim­ited ac­cess to ur­ban so­cial ser­vices and wel­fare. That th­ese peo­ple, who mostly come from the coun­try’s mid-western re­gions, such as Guizhou, Sichuan, Hu­nan and Henan prov­inces, of­ten mi­grate across prov­inces to work in east­ern coastal ar­eas, com­pounds the dif­fi­culty of ad­dress­ing their rights and in­ter­ests in the places where they work.

One prom­i­nent prob­lem is that mi­grant work­ers usu­ally move to cities alone with­out their fam­ily mem­bers. This has led to the phe­nom­ena of long-sep­a­rated cou­ples and a gen­er­a­tion of vul­ner­a­ble “left­be­hind” chil­dren and el­derly.

The ur­ban­iza­tion strat­egy, there­fore, must en­com­pass the task of ad­dress­ing the prob­lems fac­ing mi­grant work­ers in cities. The right thing to do is to en­cour­age them to stay in the cities where they work and cre­ate con­di­tions so their fam­ily mem­bers can join them. The fun­da­men­tal ap­proach to this should be fa­cil­i­tat­ing their ac­qui­si­tion of ur­ban ci­ti­zen­ship, lo­cal­iz­ing them in the ur­ban con­text and em­brac­ing them in cities in a fam­ily-friendly way.

The aim should be to en­sure that all mi­grant work­ers in medium- and large-sized cities, small cities and town­ships, en­joy the same pub­lic ser­vices and so­cial wel­fare as ur­ban res­i­dents, are en­ti­tled to the same rights and shoul­der the same obli­ga­tions, so that they will no longer be on the fringes of the ur­ban land­scape.

Some peo­ple ar­gue that in­te­grat­ing mi­grant work­ers into ur­ban life on an equal foot­ing as those fully rec­og­nized as ur­ban res­i­dents means en­tic­ing them back into small cities and town­ships, where the prob­lems re­lated to house­hold reg­is­tra­tion, health­care and their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion can be more eas­ily solved. How­ever, this is ac­tu­ally un­fea­si­ble and unattain­able, given the lim­ited job va­can­cies in small cities and town­ships. Oth­ers sug­gest that the ci­ti­zen­ship move­ment should be aimed at break­ing the bar­ri­ers of the house­hold reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem, and in this sense all the re­lated prob­lems will be solved. But the fact is, the house­hold reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem is just a for­mat, while all the ben­e­fits that come at­tached to the house­hold reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem are the real sub­stance. There­fore, we need to en­able mi­grant work­ers to ac­cess so­cial wel­fare and ser­vices in cities.

Un­de­ni­ably, ur­ban­iza­tion has be­come a pol­icy fo­cus for the gov­ern­ment. Ur­ban­iza­tion was, for the first time, writ­ten into the 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-05) when China pledged not to miss the op­por­tu­nity to im­ple­ment the strat­egy of ur­ban­iza­tion. The sig­nif­i­cance of ur­ban­iza­tion was re­it­er­ated in the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10), as the cen­tral lead­er­ship vowed to co­or­di­nate the de­vel­op­ment of small, medium and large cities, en­hance the car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity of cities and towns, ac­tively pro­mote ur­ban­iza­tion and steadily trans­form the dual ru­ral-ur­ban struc­ture step by step. The 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) has specif­i­cally pro­posed that the coun­try fa­cil­i­tate the trans­fer of the agri­cul­tural pop­u­la­tion to ur­ban ar­eas and made im­ple­ment­ing the ur­ban­iza­tion strat­egy a key task.

The coun­try’s new lead­er­ship pledged at the 18th Na­tional Congress of the Com­mu­nist Party of China, in Novem­ber last year, that re­form of the house­hold reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem will be ac­cel­er­ated, ru­ral mi­grant work­ers will be in­cor­po­rated as per­ma­nent ur­ban res­i­dents in an or­derly way. The gov­ern­ment will also en­deavor to en­sure that all per­ma­nent res­i­dents have ac­cess to ba­sic ur­ban pub­lic ser­vices.

With proper pol­icy sup­port the liveli­hoods of mi­grant work­ers and their fam­ily mem­bers will be en­hanced, and this is the true pur­pose of the ur­ban­iza­tion drive.

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